Salem Horror Festival 2023: Guys at Parties Like It

The legacy of college hazing and rape culture is the focus of this frequently acid-tongued horror.

Synopsis: As part of a brutal hazing ritual, a young frat pledge leads a wasted girl upstairs to swipe his v-card, only to discover getting lucky isn’t so easy.

Guys at Parties Like It starts with an unusual encounter in which Brad (Anthony Notarile) reveals his specific kink to Trixie (Jacqueline O’Kelly). From the outset, sex and aggression are intrinsically linked – an astute commentary on the attitude of sex as conquest pushed by toxic spaces and institutions, especially that of the fraternity. Frats have often hit headlines for the damage done to women and also the men who want to become part of the exclusive, legacy-laden clubs so it stands to reason that horror would seek to explore this further.

Mary (Monica Garcia Bradley) finds herself ostracised at a frat party, at odds with Trixie and the ins and outs of her sex life are under scrutiny. Considered a ‘sure thing’, Brad takes her to his room, increasingly desperate to meet the terms of his pledge and avoid having to participate in a storied ritual. The house becomes a battleground as the two clash.

The quote ‘Delta sees all’ looms large over the film, with the sense that characters are either firmly under the thrall of or utterly trapped by the rigid, cruel system that has been allowed to run unchallenged for decades. A police officer who appears during the events of the film specifically asks about the ritual, chillingly confirming that this is widely known and those who partake find themselves in positions of power.

Monica Garcia Bradley is an absolute force of nature, providing Mary with vulnerability, strength and an overall watch-ability that offers an anchor even in the film’s most challenging moments. Her presence is so completely captivating that even in dialogue-free scenes she steals the show, brilliantly selling an arresting final sequence.

Guys at Parties Like It wields a sharp tongue, dropping references to real sexual assault cases (Brock Turner is, understandably, name-checked) and irreverent dialogue throughout. In some ways, the brutality of language echoes reality with that dark humour becoming a coping mechanism for horrifying behaviour. It would be easy to point to films like Assassination Nation with frank discussions and blunt social commentary as a driving force. There are times, however, when the film wants to indulge in sex comedy tropes and dialogue. Those films also arguably contribute to damaging attitudes about sex and so it makes sense that the film would seek to echo them, but at times, it feels like too much of a contrast to the darker material.

The editing is sufficiently energetic and melds perfectly with a vibrant soundtrack. The film makes the most of largely limited locations, turning the fraternity house into a neon-soaked house of horrors in places. By gradually building a geography of the house, it furthers our identification with Mary in her attempts to escape. The effects are decent too, matching the escalating levels of horror.

An unevenness of mood does somewhat let this down, but a truly great central performance and the commentary it contains make it more than worth a watch.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out 5 stars

Guys at Parties Like It screened as part of Salem Horror Festival 2023.

Salem Horror Festival 2023: Bury the Bride

A bachelorette party goes very wrong in this flawed but diverting horror.

Synopsis: Bride to be June’s bachelorette getaway turns deadly when her blood thirsty fiance and his friends show up to crash the party.

It would be fair to say that June’s (Scout Taylor-Compton) friends and her sister Sadie (Krsy Fox – also taking on writing and editing duties) do not see the appeal of her new fiance, David (Dylan Rourke). In fact, they are downright confused and more than a little hostile about her choice of partner, yet decide to put that aside to go to her bachelorette party. Soon, their evening is interrupted by David and soon, the situation becomes alarmingly clear.

Bury the Bride struggles with pacing, offering a blast of violence in the film’s opening and then slowing considerably to sit with the characters. This is successful to some degree, allowing the relationships between the group to bed in with lively conversations about favourite Spice Girls (complete with some Sporty Spice derision which, not going to lie, nearly lost me right out of the gate – surely she’s the best one?!). Still, it introduces an ebb and flow of tension and friendship that punctuates the film and everyone is delivering fun performances. There are knowing nods to horror conventions, including lines like ‘the hot one never dies first’.

It is a shame, then, that the knowledge of tropes doesn’t translate into boosting this into something more unique. There is some welcome play with the central mythology, which is appreciated and keeps it from being too by the numbers. However, there is a sense that the film believes it conceals the direction it is headed in more than it actually does, dropping too many hints too early on. Although, your mileage may vary on this and you may experience the film’s reveal very differently.

Fox and Taylor-Compton do much of the film’s emotional heavy lifting as the sisters at the heart of the film. Fox has a strong, stoic quality that meets Taylor-Compton’s softer manner as the lost June. Lyndsi LaRose does excellent work with Carmen, who could easily fall too far into stereotype if not for some considered writing and strong performance. The ensemble is rounded out by solid performances from Rachel Brunner and Katie Ryan.

Bury the Bride is in no rush and punctuates this with an elongated dance scene that cleverly marks the close of the film’s focus on building the characters and setting the scene into a greater intensity. Everything escalates, from the soundtrack to performances as the film unfolds. However, that tendency to overextend scenes does have an impact on the film, frequently falling into the trap of telegraphing the next move.

The groundwork in building tension and character relationships are strengths, as is an excellent final scene that does have an impact. However, it is difficult to escape the feeling that there is a shorter, sharper, more satisfying film to be found.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Bury the Bride screened as part of Salem Horror Festival 2023.