'Porno': Film Review | SXSW 2019

Courtesy of Evoke
Wallows in its excesses.

The Christian employees of a small-town movie theater find themselves battling a sexy succubus in Keola Racela's raunchy horror film.

You pretty much know what you're in for with a horror film titled Porno, and director Keola Racela doesn’t disappoint. This indie effort that recently received its world premiere at SXSW features enough nudity and gross-out gore to please its target audience. What it doesn't succeed in doing is delivering its intended social commentary about religious teens who are revealed to be more than a little hypocritical when describing their credo as CBTL, or "Christ Bears the Load." On the other hand, viewers are unlikely to care, since they get to see exploding testicles and bare breasts.

The story is set in small-town America circa 1992, where the local movie theater is showing Encino Man and A League of Their Own. After closing the theater one Friday night, the employees, all of them Christian, are given the option by the manager (Bill Phillips) to watch one of those films in a private screening. Cue the Pauly Shore and Madonna jokes.

The employees include self-styled goth Chastity (Jillian Mueller), who's been put in charge for the evening; Heavy Metal Jeff (Robbie Tann), the projectionist; BFFs Abe (Evan Daves) and Todd (Larry Saperstein), forever getting into trouble; and hunky jock Ricky (Glenn Stott), on whom Chastity has a serious crush. That her romantic hopes may be fruitless are indicated by the fact that Ricky has recently returned from a mysterious camp in an effort to scare himself literally straight.

When an unkempt hobo (Peter Reznikoff) makes an unwelcome appearance, the kids chase him through the building and discover a second, hidden theater in the basement. They also find film cans filled with reels from an unknown feature that turns out to be a psychedelia-drenched soft-core porn film. Never having seen one before, they're not quite sure what it is.

The act of projecting the film unleashes its central character, a sexy succubus (Katelyn Pearce) who quickly sets about seducing the employees. She's frequently seen nude, as Porno makes an admirable attempt at realism with her intimate grooming hardly adhering to modern standards.

As you might guess, violent mayhem ensues as the teenagers desperately try to escape the clutches of the oversexed demon in their midst. That's where the exploding testicles come in, and kudos to the pic's makeup department for the superb special effects. (At least, I hope they're special effects. The image still haunts my dreams.) By the time the evening is over, one of the characters has been taken over by the demon and another has performed a very unlikely and awkward striptease.

The screenplay by Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli is more clunky than inspired, straining heavily for a comic vibe that it only partially succeeds in fulfilling. You certainly can't accuse the movie of taking itself too seriously, however. The actors don't hesitate from going over the top, and director Racela pulls out all the stops for his feature debut; you can almost imagine him cackling at the more outrageous moments. He also displays an impressive visual style, especially with his often very clever editing. Even if the sophomoric Porno doesn't make the grade, it represents a promising start for the talented filmmaker. 

Production company: Evoke
Cast: Evan Daves, Larry Saperstein, Jillian Mueller, Glenn Stott, Robbie Tann, Katelyn Pearce, Bill Phillips, Peter Reznikoff
Director: Keola Racela
Screenwriters: Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli
Producers: Chris Cole, Sarah Seulki Oh
Executive producers: Christopher H. Cole, Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli
Director of photography: John Wakayama Carey
Production designer: Heather Yancey
Composer: Carla Patullo
Casting: Adrienne Stern
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Feature Competition)

98 minutes