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Eric Pennycoff
Jeremy Gardner, Graham Skipper, Taylor Zaudtke
Writing Credits:
Eric Pennycoff

A devout priest welcomes a struggling couple into his house at Christmas time. What begins as a simple act of kindness quickly becomes the ultimate test of faith once the sanctity of his home is jeopardized.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
English Audio Description
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 82 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/6/22

• Two Introductions
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Eric Pennycoff and Producer Scott Smith
• Chattanooga Live Commentary
• Chattanooga Q&A
• “Parasites in the Oven” Visual Essay
• “The Voice of Reason” Featurette
• FrightFest Intro/Q&A
• “The Making of The Leech” Featurette
• Music Video
• 3 Short Films
• Trailer


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The Leech [Blu-Ray] (2022)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 21, 2022)

With a title like The Leech, would anyone expect the 2022 film to offer a Christmas-related tale? Nope, but that’s what we get.

Catholic priest Father David (Graham Skipper) meets Terry (Jeremy Gardner) and Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke), a homeless couple. He feels pity for them and invites them to his home for Christmas.

This doesn’t go well for Father David, as the unruly guests take advantage of his hospitality. As matters get more and more out of control, Father David contends with his own internal demons.

While most Christmas movies go down the sentimental path, darker holiday flicks act as a moderate subgenre. Indeed, the prevalence of gooey Yuletide fare triggers these movies as an antidote to the sweetness.

Given its title and the fact it came from Arrow, I figured Leech would bring a horror movie. The label leans toward that genre, so this made sense.

Instead, leech embraces the black comedy – for a while, at least. The film does go more toward psychological terror along the way, but the tale of the helpful man stuck with bad house guests covers a lot of territory.

I won’t pigeonhole Leech in that category, though. As mentioned, it expands along the way and turns into much more of a dark psychological tale by the end.

Unfortunately, it never seems effective in any of these domains. As Leech attempts to meld broad comedy and moody horror, it just feels like a barely coherent mess.

The choice to set Leech at Christmas feels unnecessary and gimmicky. While the movie features that seasonal setting, it never comes across as a significant factor in the story, as the narrative could take place any time of year and seem essentially unchanged.

A better-made film could blend the black comedy and horror genres, but those involved with Leech can’t pull off that trick. Both Gardner and Zaudtke always play their parts as cartoon rednecks, and Skipper’s immense resemblance to Zach Galifianakis means he feels better suited for comedy.

Perhaps if Leech simply tried to be a Planes, Trains and Automobiles-style tale of a straightlaced guy stuck with crude and rude guests, it might find a path to success. Instead, the story roams all over the place and becomes an erratic mess.

While the broad comedy of the first act doesn’t quite satisfy, Leech nonetheless turns even less engaging as it progresses. The hamfisted attempts to make it harrowing and sinister just feel contrived and they fail to pack any kind of punch.

All of this leaves us with a meandering, dull 82 minutes to nowhere. Leech shows some inherent promise at times but the final product flops.

The Disc Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

The Leech appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image felt inconsistent.

The biggest issue here stemmed from the darkness of the film. While not truly opaque, much of the movie looked murky and dimly-lit.

Was this an intentional photographic choice? Probably.

Did it make sense in the scheme of things? Not particularly.

Yes, I understand that Leech wanted a tone in this vein. However, it just didn’t seem logical for so much of the image to remain so difficult to discern. It could genuinely become tough to read the onscreen action a lot of the time.

Overall sharpness seemed positive. Occasional instances of softness occurred – especially during some interiors – but most of the movie felt fairly tight and well-defined.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. In terms of source flaws, these remained absent.

Colors went with a lean toward amber/orange, with some blues at times too. These trends didn’t seem overwhelming, and the hues generally appeared reasonably full.

Blacks could feel a bit crushed, but they usually came across with decent depth. This was a watchable presentation but the murkiness made it a “C+“.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, so the mix worked fairly well – within its restrained ambitions, at least. The soundscape stayed low-key and moody most of the time, as it only popped open on a couple of occasions.

Music offered good presence, though, and used the speakers in an effective manner. Occasional instances of directional dialogue occurred as well, and some more fantastic scenes added useful engagement. Most of the track stayed ambient, though.

Audio quality seemed fine, with effects that appeared acceptably accurate and full. Music worked best, as the snatches of score seemed lively and rich.

Speech seemed distinctive and easily understood. This turned into a competent track for an indie flick.

A mix of extras appear here, and we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Eric Pennycoff and producer Scott Smith. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story and characters, sets and locations, music and sound, cast and performances, editing and costumes, photography and related domains.

For the most part, Pennycoff and Smith offer a reasonably informative and engaging affair, though one that tends to focus on nuts and bolts. While I’d like more about the creative side of the coin, this nonetheless turns into a pretty positive track.

We also find a live commentary recorded at a virtual screening for a Chattanooga festival. This panel involves Pennycoff and actors Graham Skipper, Taylor Zaudtke, Jeremy Gardner and Rigo Garay.

The commentary looks at story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, and related domains. Given the participants, one should expect an emphasis on the actors and their work.

Which seems fine, though the results don’t become especially insightful, as we mainly get stories from the shoot. Still, this becomes a reasonably engaging chat that moves well.

We can watch the movie with or without two separate Introductions. We hear from Pennycoff (10 seconds) and Skipper (12 seconds). Given the brevity of these clips, they’re pretty pointless.

Also from that virtual Chattanooga festival, we get a Q&A. It goes for 33 minutes, 59 seconds and involves Pennycoff, Garay, Skipper, Zaudtke and Gardner.

“Q&A” looks at the small production crew, story/characters and the project’s development, cast and performances, and experiences during the shoot. This becomes a loose chat with a smattering of new insights.

A visual essay called Parasites in the Oven spans 25 minutes, 41 seconds. Critic Antom Bitel discusses Penncoff’s filmography, themes across his movies, and interpretation. Bitel offers some decent insights, though I disagree that Leech offers the depth Bitel implies.

The Voice of Reason goes for 14 minutes, 23 seconds and brings another interview with Pennycoff and Skipper.

They look at cast, characters, actors and performances, sets and locations, narrative elements and shooting through COVID. A few new notes emerge, but after two commentaries and a Q&A, we don’t get much fresh information here.

Next comes a FrightFest Intro and Q&A. It fills 18 minutes, 43 seconds and features Pennycoff and Skipper.

In this panel, they talk about experiences that shaped them, influences, and production notes. We get a mix of repetition and some new thoughts in this decent chat.

The Making of The Leech fills 14 minutes, 37 seconds with footage from the set. I enjoy this sort of “fly on the wall” material so expect an engaging reel.

After this we get a music video for Rigo’s “Sword Swingers”. We hear the character do a little of this awful rap song so this brings a very low-budget video. It’s intentionally bad.

In addition to the movie’s trailer. we conclude with three early short films. Here we locate Unfortunate (10:24), The Pod (11:03) and Phase II (4:14).

Pennycoff wrote and directed all three. Unfortunate shows promise at the start but quickly degenerates into pseudo-spooky silliness. That makes it better than the clumsily acted and pretentious sci-fi Pod, at least.

Phase II completes the trilogy of mediocrity, as the cheap video-shot tale seems faux intellectual and contrived. While none of these shorts succeed, they make for a worthwhile addition.

As an awkward mix of broad comedy and psychological horror, The Leech fails to find a path to success. The movie cannot connect its disparate stylistic choices so it ends up as a flawed mess. The Blu-ray comes with oddly dark visuals, generally positive audio and a nice array of bonus features. Buried in Leech exists an intriguing movie, but the final product doesn’t work.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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