Going to parties can be a bit distressing; the pressure to interact with strangers and to waste your money on alcohol (or other substances) is enough to make you instead spend your weekend in bed and binge-watch the same shows you’ve watched a million times. Now imagine if some maniac was going around, butchering innocent people at these parties? You would never go to another party for the rest of your life, right? Not so for a group of Brooklynite hipsters in PSYCHOTIC! They would rather ignore the idea of dying at the hands of a serial killer than give up on their daily partying habits. Without parties, what would be the point in living?
We’re introduced to the infamous Bushwick Party Killer with what might be their first kill. The viewer gets to step into the shoes of the killer in a first-person POV sequence as they sneak into an apartment where a surprise birthday party is taking place. At first we see the killer stalking their prey by hiding behind doors and underneath the bed, but they become less cautious as party guests appear indifferent to the masked stranger lurking about, one of them even remarking “it’s not a costume party, creep.” The killer then moves to the kitchen and slashes the host’s throat as she’s preparing the cake, finally sneaking out the window seconds before their victim’s body is discovered by her boyfriend.
After the title reveal, we cut to our protagonists Stuart and Tim (played by writers/directors Derek Gibbons and Maxwell Frey). Stuart is drinking from a flask in a café, hoping the alcohol will creatively fuel his writing. His roommate Tim comes in to give Stuart the only set of keys to their apartment, instructing Stuart to leave them under the potted plant outside of their building for Tim to retrieve later. The purpose of this scene is to show the dynamic between Tim, the straight hard-working stiff and Stuart, the pot-smoking artist. Tim leaves to go see his girlfriend Beverly to give her a scrapbook he made and confess his undying love for her. The plan does not go well, however. Beverly is completely turned-off by Tim’s scrapbook and rejects his advances of love. Heartbroken, Tim walks back to his apartment, only to find out that Stuart forgot to leave the key out for him. He tries to buzz his neighbors’ apartment, but they won’t let him into the building because of the killer loose in Bushwick.
Meanwhile, Stuart is practicing with his band Mass Psychosis, gearing up for their first big show. Their bassist Bill, however, doesn’t seem to know the songs, and prefers to knock back his beer mid-performance. Stuart attempts to confront him, but Bill has become cold and disconnected since his girlfriend was killed at his surprise birthday party a few weeks back. The argument creates a tension between Stuart and Bill that persists well after practice when they later go to a party. You can tell that the recent string of murders has left a damper on the party atmosphere, though everyone pretends as if nothing is wrong. After a few too many beers, Bill decides to deliver a round of “fuck-yous” to everyone at the party, leaving his best insults for Stuart, thus reviving their previous argument. Bill tells Stuart that he’s out of the band, and a frustrated Stuart leaves the party, synthesizer keyboard in hand. On his walk back home, he meets Roxy in an alleyway, who invites him back to her place so they can smoke weed. Stuart is so enamored with this new girl, he fails to notice the creepy mask hanging on her bedroom wall.
Having spent an entire night locked out of his apartment, Tim’s mental state has spiraled into madness. For the rest of the movie, he wears a constant bug-eyed expression on his face. He did, however, find a new hobby to pass the time; peering creepily into the bedroom windows of attractive unsuspecting women. Stuart, on the other hand, has already moved onto the idea of forming a new band and is obsessed with writing a new song to impress Roxy. The final scene takes place at the local bar, where Mass Psychosis (reformed as Star Fossils) is billed to perform for the first time. The show quickly devolves into a bloodbath and the killer is finally unmasked.
Much like the Scream series, PSYCHOTIC! plays around with the tropes of the slasher subgenre. The Bushwick Party Killer has picked an easy target. Instead of horny teenagers stranded in the woods, you have stoned millennials in cramped Brooklyn apartments. It makes for some great moments. For example, in one scene, while being pursued by the Party Killer, a girl buzzes Stuart’s apartment, pleading for him to let her in. To convince him that she isn’t a killer, she boasts about her popular social media presence and her thousands of Twitter followers, all while crying and bleeding. Too bad she couldn’t send one last tweet before being stabbed repeatedly in the back.
There are clear signs of a do-it-yourself effort in this film. As fun as it can be to make a movie with your friends, it doesn’t necessarily make a case for good acting. It’s almost intentionally campy. The characters are either forgettable or so annoying that you’re rooting for their eventual death. The gore is very low-budget, though there are a few creative kills, the best being when the killer stabs someone in the gut with a bong, then proceeds to light the bowl as blood and smoke escapes from their victim’s mouth. The story itself isn’t very ground-breaking. It’s filled with plot-holes and an underwhelming twist at the end. The strength of PSYCHOTIC! is in its unique style, reinforced by its original synthwave score and its colourful Giallo-inspired lighting. Like most slashers, it’s best to just turn off your brain and enjoy the psychedelic massacre in front of you, with a beer in one hand and a hash-pipe in the other.
3 / 4 eberts
PSYCHOTIC! will be available on VOD platforms as of January 26th. There will also be a few special screenings in Brooklyn. Check out the film’s website for more information.