Peg Aloi says Eric Pennycoff's The Leech is a satisfying and hilariously brutal thriller.
The indie psychological holiday horror drama, The Leech, is a rather harrowing tale of misdirected kindness. Written and directed by Eric Pennycoff, we see a continuation of themes explored in his film Sadistic Intentions (2018). The film begins with a priest, Father David (Graham Skipper), giving a sermon on kindness in a near-empty church. Father David compares showing kindness and hospitality to our fellow humans to showing it to Jesus, and connects to heavenly rewards, but also reminds listeners that kindness is its own reward.
As the handful of church-goers files out the door after the sermon, Father David greets each of them. He seems sincere, if somewhat overbearing in his attempt to radiate kindness. As he goes to close up the church and turn out the lights, he discovers a man sleeping in the pew. This is Terry (Jeremy Gardner), who tells David to let him sleep and that he’ll lock up when he leaves. David hesitates, then tells Terry he can’t stay there. Outside, David overhears Terry on his phone, upset and swearing. He can’t get a ride home because he can’t reach his friend. It’s a cold winter day — just before Christmas in fact — and David offers him a ride home.
David listens politely to Terry’s loud, raucous stories, and his tales of difficulty, which he relays with a fair bit of good humor. When he drops Terry off, he can’t get inside his friend’s house, and can’t reach him because his phone isn’t working. He tells David not to worry, that he’ll sleep under the bridge as he’s done before. David hesitates a moment but offers to let Terry stay the night at his house. Terry is effusively thankful, and David seems content that he’s doing the right thing.
However, as Terry settles into David’s guest room, he immediately shows himself to be a house guest from hell. He gets drunk and plays loud music when David’s trying to sleep. The priest seems to be having second thoughts about offering his hospitality, but when he asks Terry to turn the music down, the man apologizes and complies. As one day stretches into two, Terry’s rude and crude behavior begins to grate on David’s nerves. Then, Terry’s girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke) shows up to stay. Pregnant and unemployed, but outgoing and seemingly eager to please, her presence increases David’s discomfort, yet also confirms his opinion of himself as a kindhearted person doing the lord’s work.
That is an intriguing aspect of this story that upends what might have been a predictable plot line: the motivations of the kind and good priest are not entirely pure, as he selfishly wants to uphold an outward image of compassion and kindness. However, as Terry and Lexi’s partying and slovenly behavior push David’s hospitality to its limits, his normally calm and pleasant veneer cracks, showing signs of irritability, impatience, and eventually, rage. His desire to help these unfortunate people shifts to a desire to change and control them, which is clearly a lost cause. There’s a rather delicious escalation of events, as Terry and Lexi seem to want to measure how much decadence and debauchery they can visit on David’s quiet household before he breaks. The film's leads are more than up to the task here, especially Gardner, who portrays Terry’s pathological manipulation with real gusto.
The story builds to a somewhat outrageous climax, which is hilariously brutal. Although the lighting felt too dark in many places, and there’s maybe just a bit too much music used to try and establish mood, these are minor issues. The Leech is a strong and satisfying thriller.
The Leech is now streaming on Arrow Video.