Everyone hates hipsters, or at least that is the idea at the centre of Psychotic! A Brooklyn Slasher Film (2016). From their charity shop aesthetic to their adoption of the very latest fads, via a thick band of insular snobbery, it’s easy for many to get on board with that view. Given that at the heart of a good slasher movie is a healthy number of characters against whom the audience can root, the idea of having hipsters in the crosshairs seems like a wonderful idea. However, slasher movies can be notoriously hard to pull off effectively. So, does Psychotic! A Brooklyn Slasher Film make for a bloody good time or a complete mess of its interesting premise?
In an opening scene clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), we’re given an extended killer’s-eye view of a group of hipsters gathering for a birthday party complete with synth-laden soundtrack and asthmatic breathing. Sneaking around to target one particular partygoer, the killer is helped by the other guests hiding in order to surprise an imminent guest. The technical issues here can be ignored on such a small budget – around $50,000 – especially as this is an interesting conceit and has the potential to create some really atmospheric moments.
However, the filmmakers haven’t tried to create a raw, straight slasher movie. Psychotic! tries to be a comedy too, poking fun at both the slasher genre and hipsters themselves. Subsequently, the killer hides under a bed, gets spoken to by some guy about the apps on his phone, smokes a joint with him, before getting back to the far more serious business of hunting longpig. This is the first of many, huge tonal shifts in Psychotic!; it lurches wildly from comedy punches thrown at the whole hipster community to more traditional, stalk-and-slash genre fayre. And therein lies the rub.
There are some genuinely amusing moments scattered throughout the movie – one character trying to escape the killer using her social media credentials feels especially on the nose – but they are few and far between. Directors Maxwell Frey and Derek Gibbons – who write and star – focus far too much on trying to skewer the hipster movement with comedy which is, for the most part, not funny rather than focusing the slasher aspects that Psychotic! does surprisingly well.
Whilst it doesn’t stray massively from tried and tested slasher set pieces, what is here is pulled off with some aplomb. Despite the movie’s relatively small cast, the body count is actually rather large with most seeing the sharp end of the killer’s intentions by the end of the 90-minute runtime. Like those in the best genre movies, the Bushwick Party Killer has a signature weapon – a knife mistaken for a letter opener in the movie’s opening motion – but employs a variety of implements to cull the hipsters as it trots towards its conclusion.
The clear highlight is an inventive death by bong scene. Stabbings, slashings and maimings appear with moderate regularity; the special effects are pretty ropy. There is comparatively little blood, but there is gory fun to be had in the movie’s standout scene – a disemboweling which has more than a passing nod to Norman Bates’ most famous scene. Discerning slasher fans should be aware that the genre’s other most obvious tropes – female nudity and sex scenes – are completely absent. So, those looking for titillation will find nothing here to scratch that particular itch. From a direction point of view, Frey and Gibbons clearly have a good eye. Despite the movie taking place over the course of a single evening, Psychotic! is well lit and they use vivid colours to striking effect.
The characters in Psychotic! are the movie’s biggest problem. Slasher movies need characters to die and the audience to be pleased when they do; the genre’s perverse pleasure comes from willing the killers to do what they do best. However, there’s a caveat here. The audience needs some characters to latch on to – to act as their voice to the events- to be likable and for whom to be pleased when they inevitably survive. There was no one in the entire cast of Psychotic who was remotely pleasant and as a result it was impossible to care when they were killed off.
There was no gamut: no range of personalities. Everyone is a self-obsessed, navel-gazing, irritating douche and as a result the movie has no emotional heart. Whilst this may reflect the filmmakers’ views of hipsters in general – it was shot on location in the hipster-centric Bushwick area of Brooklyn – this does not help the audience buy into their characters or help to make them bearable in almost any way. In theory, the murders take place against the backdrop of the crumbling friendship between Frey’s creepy loser Tim and Gibbon’s uptight, pathetic Stuart. But, along with subplots about a 1980’s retro synth band and an unrequited love, it is all largely irrelevant and difficult to care about.
This is further muddied by female cast members who are largely interchangeable. Indeed, I couldn’t tell two of them apart at all although Kristen Martin’s Roxy is prettily spunky and is the movie’s least annoying character by a country mile. The killer is on screen rather a lot and good use is made of silhouette and lighting to create an imposing figure. However, their mask is distracting like a papier-mache version of Blur bassist Alex James.
Psychotic! A Brooklyn Slasher Film is a strange, strange film. On one hand it is a well-made, competently shot, low-budget slasher with some good ideas and an interesting, if peculiar, villain. On the other it is a poorly judged, unfunny comedy about unlikable and irritating American hipsters. Despite the title, the Brooklyn connection barely registered. If it wasn’t stated in the title, most audiences would have no idea where the movie was set. On such a tiny budget, it feels churlish in many ways to be disappointed, but that’s how I was left after the movie’s big reveal. There are the bones of a solid little slasher here, but it is mired down by the rest of the film – a dreary comedy lacking in laughs and seemingly obsessed with presenting its hipster cast as unappealingly as possible. There’s a good slasher movie to be made from this central conceit, probably a fun bro-style comedy, too. Sadly, this is neither of those things which is a shame.