Detective Jack Fox’s early retirement is put on hold when a lunatic in a pumpkin mask starts hacking up the young people of Salem. Against his wishes, he’s forced to team up with Steve Ryan — Fox’s replacement. The brutality of the killings soon prove to be too much for not only Fox, but Ryan as well.
When it comes to separating the good from the bad with basic genre movies — the kind of movies that follow a formula to a T — can come down different factors. It could be something like a technical quality or perhaps something that’s a bit more nondescript, like charm. It’s hard to describe what it is that makes a movie feel charming but it gives the movie strength and allows the viewer to look beyond its fault and find genuine enjoyment. At this point, we’ve covered so many basic low-budget slashers with Film Bizarro that I can’t help but wince when I have to review another one. However, I found myself smitten with “Beg” — the long awaited feature debut from Kevin MacDonald.
An unknown serial killer is stalking the streets of Salem, hacking up young people with clinical precision in order to prolong their demise. Detective Jack Fox, who was assigned the case, is being forced into early retirement due to his inability to catch the killer for six months. When the killer proves to be too much for his replacement, Detective Steve Ryan, Jack is forced to partner up with the young man in an attempt to finally stop the masked lunatic — even at the risk of Jack’s sanity.
I’m not going to lie, “Beg” is a rough movie. Understandably, since I believe it is the first feature film from Kevin MacDonald. And by rough, I mean there are technical problems with the movie; some because of budget constraints while others come from lack of experience. One of the budget issues and probably the biggest problem in the movie is the lack of lighting. It was frustrating at times since there are many scenes that are so dark that you cannot tell what’s happening. Darkness is a great asset in any horror movie, and I’m sure it helped “Beg” in some ways too, but there were too many scenes being lost in darkness.
There are some similar problems with sound design and, to an extent, the cinematography but this is where that charm comes into play. While it was occasionally hard to see what was happening in scenes, or fluctuating audio levels (and some cheesy sound effects), I was still having a good time and enjoying “Beg” for what it was: an unapologetic slasher.
An issue I have with modern horror is that there’s this inexplicable need to be self-aware. It’s worse in the low-budget and independent world of movies, which I can only assume comes from insecurity. It’s as if filmmakers feel if they make fun of their own movie, then people will be less inclined to call out its shortcomings — or worse, it gives them an excuse to not try or put in the work.
“Beg” didn’t feel that way at all. It is just a straight forward slasher that hits all of those established beats that makes us love the sub-genre: a masked killer, a high body count, blood, bewbs, and some familiar faces from past horror movies. The movie isn’t trying to redefine the genre, break new ground, or do anything other than be an entertaining movie about a killer in a mask hacking people up, and goddammit, it worked. The movie is doing exactly what it wants to do, you can sense the sincerity behind the project and that also adds to the movie’s charm. Because of that feeling of sincerity, you are able to see the genuine effort being put into the different aspects of the movie, like the cinematography.
And yes, I know I mentioned earlier that a fault in the movie is the cinematography, but there’s both positive and negative aspects to how the movie was shot. The negative aspect that mentioned is that the movie is flat; very few shots had depth and tended to have a look of desaturation. Those issues again can be pointed to the lack of budget — you use what you can afford, after all. When you actually watch the movie though, there’s thought behind the framing and how the scenes are being shot. One scene that stood out to me is when the character Jack Fox is talking with the Chief of Police about the case, and when Jack is handed a document, the camera focuses on the paper and Jack’s reflection in the desk while part of the exposition is delivered. That may seem irrelevant, but a small detail like that tells me everything about the effort being put into the movie. Kevin and his cinematographer, Aaron Cadieux, could have easily used the standard shot-reverse-shot for these kind of scenes. Instead they went with something a little interesting, and that’s what makes the difference between this movie and any other slasher.
For me, it’s all of those small details that can make or break a movie like “Beg”. There are numerous slashers out there that hit all the necessary beats in order to exist, and they may look pretty, but they always come across as soulless and are simply not fun to watch because of it. While “Beg” may not be a polished product, it has sincerity and effort in its attempt to make an enjoyable slasher movie. Which it succeeds at doing because it’s fun and entertaining with a charming low-budget aesthetics. Even with the movie’s few rough patches and technical issue, it never lost that charm or the enjoyment I had while watching it.