Chemical Peel (2014)

Chemical Peel posterWhat a great name for a horror flick, eh!! Between the title, the poster art, and the all-female cast I was getting a THE DESCENT-body horror-CABIN FEVER kinda vibe from this one. CHEMICAL PEEL has all the elements to make a kick-ass, gory, engaging horror flick. Unfortunately the film doesn’t hit it out of the park – more like an easy popup to the pitcher. CHEMICAL PEEL is directed by Hank Braxtan and written by Braxtan, Dan Sinclair, Arielle Brachfeld, and Natalie Victoria. That’s a lot of chef’s cooking just one meal and in the past that many writers has resulted in a convoluted, messy plot. Thankfully the story is more focused here than in other gang writing projects but there’s one essential element missing from this film that could’ve thrown it over the edge and made it a stronger all around film.

CHEMICAL PEEL starts off as many horror films begin. A group of friends are heading up to a remote cabin to party it up and celebrate the upcoming wedding of Angela (Arielle Brachfeld; yes, she is one of the writers). Along for the fun are Rae (Natalie Victoria; yes another writer), Angela’s sister; Jordin (Stephanie Greco), the smart, sensitive one; Elise (Lacy Fisher), the ‘tough girl’ who loves to party, curse, and smoke; Kim (Leigh Davis), who is literally afraid of everything, and Deb (Lony’e Perrine), the responsible girl who brings her infant baby up to the cabin. Yes, you read that correctly. Deb brings her infant baby to a wild bachelorette party but tells the others not to worry because, and I’m paraphrasing, “Once he eats I’ll lie him down and he’s a really sound sleeper.” At first the girls are getting along and drinking and having fun but there seems to be a lot of tension between sisters Angela and Rae. Angela seems to be the more successful of the two and she takes every opportunity to remind Rae what a loser she is just because she didn’t finish college, has a dead end job, and no boyfriend. There’s more backstory to their relationship (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it) that clears up why there’s so much animosity between the two sisters, but Angela is way over the top.

The calm before the storm.

The calm before the storm.

During their first night in the cabin, which belongs to the sisters’ grandfather, they’re all getting nice and hammered when they suddenly hear a huge explosion off in the distance. They stop partying for a few minutes to discuss what that noise might have been. Their consensus? They attribute what was obviously an explosion to hunters (!??!?). Then they go back to getting pissed to the tits. The next morning, though, they wake up to a noxious smell in the air that has them all coughing and choking. So they barricade themselves into the cabin (which is more like a house) and try and figure out what’s going on. Turns out a chemical company was transporting a bunch of various chemicals, “that were never meant to be combined,” by train and the train derailed causing an explosion and mixing all the chemicals into a deadly stew. The news channels are telling all residents in the area to stay in their homes and to not go outside under any circumstance. Rescue workers are apparently conducting house-to-house checks to remove all survivors from the area. At first there’s a slight haze in the air that makes the girls choke and cough, but as the day progresses into night that haze becomes a thick chemical soup that starts burning their skin and worse.

There’s a lot here I want to like. The setup is familiar yet also fresh. The “remote cabin” bit has been done to death but here the remote location adds to the suspense and the tension. Are there really rescue workers out there? If so, have they missed the girls’ cabin? And it doesn’t take long for the cabin to become claustrophobic as the girls’ nerves fray and they start turning on each other. The plot itself is solid in CHEMICAL PEEL, unfortunately the writing misses the mark more than it hits. The biggest problem is the characters themselves. When we first meet the girls I was expecting them to be more like the cast in THE DESCENT. What we get is something more like the cast of one of those unwatchable HOUSEWIVES OF shows. When the girls do come together to secure the house it’s only for like five minutes and not even all the girls helped out. Deb left everyone behind and took their only vehicle because her infant son wasn’t breathing. But instead of getting everyone to leave she simply grabs the car keys and takes off, abandoning them. And yes, Deb is black. So the first person to die in CHEMICAL PEEL is the only black character. Not making a racial statement here, I’m just pointing out an observation (Deb may as well have been wearing one of the red shirts from the original STAR TREK).

Chemical Peel2

I know it’d be easy to write off the bad character arcs on this being just another case of a male writer unable to write strong female roles, but that’s not the case here. Sure the main writer is a male (Dan Sinclair) but there were two female writers on this script as well. Where was their input? Did it not dawn on them any time writing and reading this script that the female characters are annoying and unlikable? Angela, simply put, is an unbearable bitch throughout the entire film. Not only that, she’s mean (really mean), sadistic, and selfish. She didn’t have one likable quality about her and when we find out why she’s like that you wanted to slap her even more. It has to do with the trauma her and her sister, Rae, shared when younger. Her motivations simply don’t gel with her character. Angela would’ve happily sacrificed every one of the other girls if that meant she could save herself. The character of Rae wasn’t as poorly written as Angela but there’s many times you just wanna slap the shit of Rae for not having a backbone and standing up to Angela. Rae is also the closest we get to one of the girls remaining strong throughout the crisis. Every other girl crumbles into a puddle of hysteria and uselessness. I know this is a little harsh but these were really poorly written female characters.

Ya gotta have a shower scene!!

Ya gotta have a shower scene!!

The overall acting was decent enough if not uneven at times. It’s just a shame these actresses didn’t have better material to work with. There’s some embarrassingly bad dialogue in places. Angela gives a monologue about terrorism and terrorists that was laughable and Jordin talks about the ebola virus that was supposed to be intense but had me rolling my eyes. I’m surprised the other cast members weren’t laughing. I’d watch every one of these actresses in another film because I’m certain their acting was a reflection of the poor writing.

There were also some continuity issues and the film’s “inner logic” seemed to be flawed. Different characters could apparently handle the chemical stew longer than others. During the climax of the film (don’t worry, there’s no spoilers here) one of the characters, who suddenly finds a complete biohazard suit and gas mask in the basement, leaves the others behind to die. She accidentally tears the suit and immediate dies. Another character, again in the climax, walks outside covered only in a large towel with no gas mask or anything over her face and she is able to survive for a great deal longer. I don’t know about you, but inconsistencies like that really piss me off. It’s lazy writing!! But on the positive side, CHEMICAL PEEL has a great setup and is able to sustain a high level of tension and suspense the whole time. There’s definitely a CABIN FEVER vibe here and after it was over I was wishing CABIN FEVER had more of an influence on CHEMICAL PEEL. Unfortunately the writing just isn’t up to the task. The climax of the film, which should have had a high level of tension, sinks into a convenient wrap up of events.

Chemical Peel3

Most disappointing of all is the writing of the female characters. Remember the episode of FAMILY GUY where Stewie conducts an experiment to see if Brian and Peter would become friends if they knew nothing about each other? He created a virtual world where the guys were the last people on earth and they banded together to survive. He then does the same experiment with Lois, Bonnie, and Meg and within minutes the women are physically and verbally attacking and beating the crap out of each other. The same thing happens in CHEMICAL PEEL. This film asks the question, “In an emergency situation, would six women be able to put aside their differences and come together in order to survive?” The answer: Nope!! If you took this exact plot and put it in the hands of better writers I think the potential is endless. But as it stands I can’t recommend this film.

My Summary:

Director: Hank Braxtan

Plot: 2 out of 5 stars

Gore: 6.5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Scott Shoyer

Stay Bloody!!!

2 Responses to “Chemical Peel (2014)”
  1. Dan Sinclair says:

    Thanks for taking the time to review this film. As independent filmmakers, it’s hard enough just to get people to watch our little movie, let alone critique it. CHEMICAL PEEL was a labor of love for all those involved and something we’re very much proud of. We, of course, know that it’s not going to be something for everyone and appreciate all feedback whether good, bad or indifferent.

    I would just to point out one correction as I’m sure you’d like your review to be as factual as possible. There was only ONE WRITER of this film and that would be me. I take full responsibility for all laziness, poorly written female characters and embarrassingly bad dialogue that may (or may not) be found within it. Thanks again for taking a look!


    • Thanks for correcting this review. You might want to correct the info on the IMDb page. There it has Hank Braxtan, Arielle, & Natalie as contributing to the story as well.


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