CFF 2023: STAG, Horror with Heart!

Stag was a completely blind watch on the Chattanooga Film Fest virtual platform, based simply on the odd hand drawn cover art that for some reason beckoned to me. 

Written and directed by Alexandra Spieth, the film is the story of City Girl Jenny (Mary Glen Fredrick) who, like most of us, stalks her high school friends on social media. When she discovers her estranged best friend Mandy (Elizabeth Ramos) is getting married, she impulsively reaches out to the woman she hasn’t spoken to in over a decade, hoping to reconnect. Inadvertently she ends up invited to Mandy’s bachelorette party at a secluded cabin, with some of her closest friends. While Jenny attempts to find some sort of redemption for past transgressions, the other guests mysteriously begin to disappear. It’s a setup that we’ve seen countless times before, but thanks to Alexandra Spieth, it’s been transformed into an oddly endearing horror comedy about growing up, friendship and trust. 

The script here is just so damn charming and more than makes up for any shortcomings in production value or VFX. While the characters start off as broad archetypes, they slowly evolve into familiar faces of any friend group. This is complemented with an emotionally engaging crux really drew me in to the mystery of not just what is happening to our campers, but what destroyed their BFF status. Paired with that script is a cast acutely attuned to each role, without falling too into the realm of stereotypes, the bubbly ensemble effortlessly breathes life into this circle of friends. Clear standout Mary Glen Fredrick simply shines here as Jenny who plays the sympathetic outsider, who’s hoping to mend her friendship. She’s paired with Elizabeth Ramos who does an equally impressive job at crafting the kind of heartfelt performance I wasn’t ready for, as the betrayed friend looking for some sort of closure. 

Stag was a punk rock horror comedy with a real heart, and one that defies genre norms to tell this story of friendship, right along with its folk horror, spam in a cabin premise. Sure there’s the horror elements – a cabin in the woods, people dropping off like flies. But here it thankfully takes a backseat to the interpersonal struggle between these two women, who hope not only to make it out of this weekend alive, but mend their bond in the process. It’s something that you don’t see nearly enough in horror, but here it takes this well-worn premise and transforms it into something much more, an endearing story that no doubt will inspire and uplift rather than simply deliver the bodycount.

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