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When it comes right down to it, sometimes the scariest monsters are the people all around us, that we see every day. Some of the best horror tales are basically about how awful people get when in a stressful situation, and Chemical Peel attempts to explore those themes.
The girls are getting together for a bachelorette party. Angela (Arielle Brachfield) is getting married, and she and her friends are meeting up with her cousin Rae (Natalie Victoria) at their grandfather's isolated country house. Much drinking and hijinks are planned, and the evening goes well, even though there seems to be some underlying tension between Angela and Rae.
Things change in the morning though. They heard a faraway explosion during the night, and the next morning, a clinging fog has enveloped the entire valley. The fog causes severe skin irritation and difficulty breathing, and eventually death. Deb (Lony'e Perrine) panics and flees in the only car when her baby stops breathing, leaving the rest of the women to try to seal up the house and await rescue.
This being a horror movie, you can expect that rescue does not come quickly, and personality conflicts quickly come to a head, with bad consequences. Most of the drama of Chemical Peel comes from the women trapped in the house working at cross purposes, backbiting and bickering. Their instincts for self-preservation above all else come to the fore, and these formerly nice girls become a lot less nice.
The film's main antagonist is Angela, the bride to be. She is the most narcissistic and self-serving of all of them, and her hatred for Rae bubbles to the surface and explodes. Now, Angela has a pretty decent reason to dislike her cousin, which I won't reveal here, but even with its seriousness it can't begin to excuse the awfulness of this person. In fact, if I'm honest, I'll admit that a big reason that I didn't like the film more was because of an intense, visceral dislike for Angela. At some level, this is actually to the filmmakers' credit. They went for awful, and they achieved it. But it seems that they went a touch too far with how horrible that character is, and it hurts the film.
Chemical Peel is a film with plenty of examples of where making small adjustments would have resulted in a much superior work. For instance, the performances, while good, are a bit too overwrought, a bit too close to bathos. And sometimes the emotional beats repeat in short order, such as having two nearly identical girl fights in the space of a few minutes. And the ending, while gloriously bloody and over the top, seems out of proportion to what came before.
That's not to say there's nothing to like. There's good stuff here as well. As mentioned above, the performances are intense and natural. These women have a lot asked of them, not least all the time they have to spend weeping and coughing. Every one of them is able to reach the emotional heights and depths they necessary for the film to work. And the simmering tension between Angela and Rae is electric and believable. The effects work is also good, with lots of skin melting, blood, etc. The blood vomit scene in the middle is a thing to behold.
Overall, this is a good film, but not a great one. Too many things were off by just a bit for it to transcend the genre. It's clear that a lot of passionate people threw their all in this, and for the most part it works. Recommended.
The video is 2.35:1 widescreen, and looks crisp and clear, with perhaps a tiny bit of grain being the only flaw.
Audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and sounds very good. The sound design doesn't play an outsized role in the tension or experience here, but it in no way detracts from it. Dialogue is always clear, and no hiss or other problem can be detected. English and Spanish subtitles are included, but not alternate language track.
A number of extras are included. They are:
Slow Burn: The Making of Chemical Peel
This featurette is just short of twenty minutes, and has interviews with the writer, director, producer and actors, plus plenty of behind the scenes footage. Fairly interesting.
Four and a half minutes of flubbed lines and general goofiness.
Chemical Peel Trailer
A decent trailer for the film.
This commentary features writer Dan Sinclair, director Hank Braxtan, and producer Tarkin Dospil. This is very much a technical commentary, and focuses a lot on how they achieved effects, the writing process, and generally the business of low budget filmmaking. Very interesting.
This commentary features all the female leads to the film, and is much more of a fun, freewheeling experience, with the ladies discussing conditions on set that they had to endure, the experience of filming most everything in Hank's house, etc. This is also enjoyable.
Chemical Peel isn't a perfect film, but it is a good one, and far superior to most of the independent horror movies that get released every year. It's got an intense story, passionate and talented actors, good effects and a lot of fun. It's worth checking out.