Let me start by saying that The Laughing Mask is actually not a horror movie in the traditional sense, more of a dark thriller with horror elements. That being said, it is certainly an alternative, indie film that remains relatively obscure, like so many other micro-budget titles. So, the question is “Is this film a hidden gem that deserves to be uncovered or just another run-of-the-mill low budget flick drowning in a sea of it’s peers?” Well, let’s discuss.
The plot centers around the exploits of a mysterious vigilante killer known as “The Laughing Mask”. Jake Johnson (John Hardy) is a writer who’s wife was murdered and daughter abducted by said vigilante and has now written an inflammatory book on the subject in hopes of drawing him out into the open. Homicide detective Katherine O’Malley (Sheyenne Rivers) is also relentlessly pursuing the Mask in hopes of stopping his onslaught of murders as well as figuring out the deeper connection between them.
There are certainly a lot of things to like about this film. The Laughing Mask himself is an interesting character, a well-dressed psychopath with a creepy mask and a penchant for depression-era music. I also enjoyed his lair where he doled out his own brand of vigilante justice to guilty people who have skirted legal ramifications, via elaborate punishments based on their crimes. In addition, the use of creepy, old timey cartoons intercut into a few scenes actually works quite well as does the early twentieth century music that plays throughout. The film also doesn’t shy away from brutality and features numerous bloody kills.
Unfortunately, these positive elements are overshadowed by large, fundamental problems with the film itself. The most glaring issue here is the acting. Hardy actually stands out as the only one from the principal cast able to really deliver a believable performance. Most of the other actors sound like they are doing their first ever table read of a script and their stilted performances destroy any chance for the audience to suspend disbelief. This problem is only made worse by scenes where writer/director Michael Aguiar attempts to inject humor or snappy dialogue into the script, which inevitably fall flat. I also had some big issues with the flawed ending but going into further detail would require revealing major spoilers.
There is definitely some fun to be had with this film but ultimately with pacing that drags far more than it should and a lack of realistic characters to engage with, this film falls far short of what it might have been. With some more attention given to the script, as well as the casting, a very different outcome could have been produced. As it is, I don’t see The Laughing Mask breaking out of it’s obscurity to become a cult hit any time soon.