The sixth annual Mile High Horror Film Festival kicked off in a vicious way last night with the world premiere of Terry Miles’ Even Lambs Have Teeth. Sitting down in the Alamo Drafthouse Littleton, I had prepared myself for a violent “shevenge” thriller following the well-worn beats we’ve all seen before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s exactly what I was in the mood for. After a day of travel, that familiar cathartic tear was just what the doctor ordered. Miles had other plans though and completely pulled the rug out from under me. My expectations were crushed, for the better.
While the initial premise of Lambs sounds like your run-of-the-mill rape-revenge tale, Miles’ film throws some well-aimed curveballs and reaches an almost giddy level of revenge in its third act. But before the sweet, sweet comeuppance must come the nasty bits. There’s no way to work in the rape-revenge niche and not deliver disturbing material. So yes, much of Lambs first act is upsetting as BFFs Sloane (Kirsten Prout) and Katie (Tiera Skovbye) get abducted by a family of charming backwoods creeps. The girls are drugged and wake up chained to freight shipping containers used as rape dens for locals who are willing to pay. It’s not pretty.
The assaults in Lambs occur off-screen, making them much worse in our imaginations. It’s an effective less-is-more approach that’s done tastefully considering the material. The girls manage to escape after days of vile abuse, but instead of hightailing it back home, they decide to U-turn back into the wolf den to make their abusers bleed.
Typically there’s a “transformation” moment in rape-revenge films. Sometimes it’s physical (shaving the head, dyeing hair), but the heavier stuff goes on psychologically. Sloane and Katie’s transformation is essentially a switch that goes off. There’s no big moment emotionally, but there’s a big, bold, bloody moment of rage where the girls flip the script. From then on, Even Lambs is like watching a video game in “god mode.” The girls are indestructible, untouchable, and extremely volatile. Each kill gets more creative than the last and during the whole rampage, the girls are never harmed again.
There’s not much tension there, but after a few kills it doesn’t matter. What we’re watching is pure unadulterated vengeance with a deeply playful tone. The girls and Katie’s uncle Jason (Michael Karl Richards) run into a stable of colorful characters – from a set of heavily-painted elderly twins to a coffee jerk who’s a little off – that add to that light vibe.
With a lack of tension and low-feeling stakes, you’d think Even Lambs would be really, really dumb. It’s not. It’s clever without feeling like it’s trying too hard and it all just works.
Aside from the therapeutic kills, the cast is another big reason the film works as well as it does. The chemistry between Prout and Skovbye is terrific – all their in-jokes and shared, knowing looks feel organic. Both girls are really good at playing baaad too. The backwoods creeps Jed (Garrett Black), Lucas (Jameson Parker), and Boris (Patrick Gilmore) aren’t cliché – each of them have their own unique villainous flavor. Jed comes off like a slave owner, with this concrete sneer he throws the girls. Lucas has a quiet menace to him with a heavy dash of compassion. His family bums him out, that’s clear. And Boris is the casual, tight-lipped threat who makes sure the business runs smoothly. He runs a tight ship and later on, he suffers what could be described as a “tight shit.”
Then there’s the pastor in the pig mask. He’s a real piece of work. Played by Christian Sloan (Black Christmas), the pastor isn’t on screen for very long but he makes a venomous impact.
As the producers from Random Bench Productions (Toad Road, Felt) explained at our screening, the cut we saw was fresh out of the editing suite. As rapid fire as the film is, it would benefit from some shaving here and there, particularly during reaction shots that go on a few seconds too long. Knowing there’s more editing to come, do take my skull rating with a grain of salt.
Even Lambs reaches a nice balance of human horror, dark comedy, and violent revenge flick. Usurping expectations while delivering a rowdy crowd-pleaser is a tough one. Even Lambs does it well. It’s one to see with a crowd and will hopefully be making the next round of the festival circuit.