Everyone deals with their problems—whether it’s trauma, bullying, depression, grief— differently. I lock it up all inside and keep it from most people. Probably not the healthiest, but it’s just the way I do it.
In Jeremiah Kipp’s feature length version of his short film, Slapface, brothers Lucas and Tom deal with some of their issues by playing Slapface, where – you guessed it – they take turns slapping each other in the face. This is also not the healthiest way to deal with their trauma and abuse, but it’s also the least worrisome thing about what’s happening with this tiny family. While Slapface (our review) has been available on Shudder since February 2022, it is now getting a VOD, digital, and DVD release. To celebrate this new release, I chatted with filmmaker Jeremiah Kipp and stars August Maturo and Mike Manning about making the film, living in the woods, slapping each other, and more!
PopHorror: I really enjoyed Slapface so I’m super excited to speak with you guys today. My first question is for Jeremiah. I know Slapface is based on a short film. What was your inspiration and how did the project come about?
Jeremiah Kipp: Well Tiffany, it actually started out as a feature-length script that I had been trying to get made for years and years. The short film came about as a truncation of the feature more than the feature being an extension. It was a way to tell an abbreviated version of the story and bring it to the festival circuit as a proof of concept.
Now, the origin of the story really started from rereading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The middle section of that really beautiful book involves the monster outside of a farmhouse imagining the lives of the people inside. I thought that might make an interesting movie, and I gradually started incorporating elements from my own life and from my grandfather’s abusive childhood. Gradually, the family in the house turned into the family that you saw in the feature, and the monster graduated more from Mary Shelley’s creation into something that is closer to a child’s eye view of a monster, the Gingerbread Witch in a way, only distorted and elongated and stranger. That was really the genesis of the project.
PopHorror: August and Mike, what intrigued you about the film and made you want to be a part of it?
August Maturo: When I first read the script, I fell in love with everything, the characters and all their dynamics, because not only was it a story of a boy meeting a monster, but it was also about trauma, and gun control, and bullying, too. There were so many things mixed in that I couldn’t turn it down. It was great.
Mike Manning: For me, when I read the script originally, it was a father and son story, not an older brother/younger brother story. I had just produced a movie called M.F.A. [PopHorror review] that was doing really well in the festival circuit. I had reached out to some friends specifically looking for horror/thriller scripts, and they sent me Jeremiah’s script. They showed me the short proof of concept that he had, and I read the script and immediately I knew this was exactly what I was looking for, not only as an actor, but to produce as well.
There are complex characters; there’s a gray area around who is really the bad guy. So I went to Jeremiah—I write myself, I respect writers, I respect creatives—and I said, “Jeremiah, I don’t want you just to say, ‘Yes,’ because you want to make your movie. I want this to be just as much your idea as my idea. What if it’s a story about a younger brother and an older brother, because we’ve seen the caricature of the deadbeat dad kind of thing.” I said, “Wouldn’t it be so much more tragic if the older brother is genuinely trying to be a guardian and just doesn’t have any of the tools? He’s thrust into being a dad before he was ready for it? You keep all the other elements similar to how you have them, but what if it was an older brother?”
And Jeremiah said, “Okay, give me a few days.” He came back and had started doing some work on the script. I think what we came up with was so much more rich and complex and everything. Then when I read that script, I was like, “Okay, Jeremiah. Let’s get this made. Let’s do this.” And ever since then, it was working together and making it.
PopHorror: Tragic is a great way to describe it. I think the older brother added more than what we would have seen with a father, and I really liked that element about it. I have to ask, you guys spent a good portion slapping each other, which I’m sure was fake. But did any slaps sneak in there and accidentally make contact?
August Maturo: It was all practiced stunts, and we were taught by Mack Kuhr, who was also the stunt double for John Wick in the John Wick movies, so that was really cool.
Mike Manning: I will say Auggie, he was much smaller then. Now he’s as big as I am, if not bigger, which I hate. But whatever. I think Auggie is somebody… First of all, we struck gold with Auggie, and I could not see this movie with anybody else as the lead. He was so committed, especially for a young boy. You were 12 when we made this, right?
August Maturo: Yeah.
Mike Manning: So he’s a 12 year old showing up on set with all of his lines, hitting his mark, and everybody else just waking up and we’re like, “Oh, okay. We get to make a movie today.” He was so incredibly professional. He was so committed that there was no moment that I felt unsafe, but he was incredibly committed every time that it did cross my mind. I was like, “Huh. He’s in it right now so I might get slapped in this scene. I might get smacked.” But I was okay with it. We never made contact.
PopHorror: That’s impressive, being 12 years old. Very impressive work. Jeremiah, this film touches on a few sensitive themes like bullying and trauma. Was there anything you were adamant about keeping in the film, no matter what?
Jeremiah Kipp: Yeah. Back to when Mike and I were talking about it being an older brother and a younger brother, I had concerns. I didn’t want to soften the film. It’s about abuse and it’s about this really difficult subject matter, and Mike really alleviated my concerns. He’s like, “You know, just because we’re making it younger, doesn’t’ mean that we’re going to soften anything.” We’re not going for a PG13, we’re going for an R, and we’re going to delve into the darkness and the density of that and the complexity of those relationships, because the older brother doesn’t believe that he’s abusing the younger brother. He thinks of it as a corrective – they’re on their own, it’s something that he learned from his father and, the way he’s looking at it, it’s the way of toughening Lucas up for a tough world.
When characters are treating each other horribly in this movie, it’s always coming from a place of love or of a way to protect yourself. I think that our notion of abuse is often of good guy/bad guy. It’s like if we just knock out the abuser then the problem will go away, when in fact, often the abused love their abusers, and it’s harder to untangle that than just by saying violence will solve violence. One of the things I really care about is I believe violence is a total failure of the imagination, and that’s something we didn’t want to shy away from in the telling of the story.
PopHorror: I don’t think it softened it all. I think it made it more real and raw, to have it be siblings.
Jeremiah Kipp: I agree with you. I embraced the idea fully and gave him all the credit for the greatness of that idea.
PopHorror: August and Mike, was there anything that you were adamant about bringing to your character?
Mike Manning: It’s an independent film, and we had limited time to shoot. Luckily, Jeremiah had worked with this crew before, and they sort of had a shorthand, so they worked very fast and very efficiently. There was no time where I felt rushed or that we moved on without getting the take that we wanted. I think I just made a promise to myself to just live in that world as much as possible and try to find some of the moments that weren’t necessarily on the page.
Something interesting with this film—and I don’t know if I’m ever going to have this experience again, so it was very special—was that we shot at this place called Willow Lake up in upstate New York in Fishkill. Half of the movie we shot in the woods in the surrounding areas. Half of the movie was basically shot where we were living. At night, I was sleeping in Tom’s bed. In the morning, I would wake up and I would use Tom’s coffee maker, and I would open Tom’s refrigerator and get orange juice. It was amazing.
And then August was living with his mother, Maha, and they were like a two minute walk across this beautiful lake, and there was this field. So, he was basically isolated there, right next to the woods with his mother. He would wake up there every day, and we would walk to set and meet in the woods somewhere. Jeremiah was living with his amazing DP, Dom [Sivilli], in the other house. So we would all wake up and have our coffee and walk to set.
It really created an immersive environment where we all felt like we were living in the woods with this witch and with this story. I recognize that as an amazing opportunity. I was like, “I want to live as this character as much as possible and just see what happens.” And I think we created some really great moments from that.
PopHorror: Wow! What an experience!
August Maturo: To also add on, I lived in this little cabin like what Mike said, and I don’t really get outside a ton, so being out there on location, it really helped me get into character and I’m sure everyone else, too. We were all out there in the forest. It really felt like I was the character, so it was so easy to just come to it.
PopHorror: That’s really amazing. I bet that made it easier to get into character, not really leaving and just fully immersing yourselves. That’s really cool. I just have one last question for all of you. What is your favorite scary movie?
Jeremiah Kipp: I’ll start, and I’ll go with John Carpenter’s The Thing, because I’m terrified by the notion of being taken over or convinced by some outward force. When the thing transforms, and it erupts out of these people, the idea of my body being taken over by another force is something that terrifies me. Over the weekend, I got to work with one of the actors from that movie, Keith David, so that was a dream come true. Working with an actor from a movie that you love from your childhood is always deeply rewarding.
PopHorror: That is so cool!
Mike Manning: That is cool! Mine would be A Nightmare on Elm Street, basically for the same reason. I think that if somebody is taking over your dreams and you feel helpless and they’re controlling your imagination, that’s terrifying to me. And I love practical effects. There’s so many young stars in that movie, so every time I watch it, I get creeped out.
PopHorror: Great answer!
August Maturo: I love all of The Conjuring movies for kind of the same reason they were talking about. Like demons and stuff and how it just feels so real, and that’s what scares me most from those movies, so yeah. The Conjuring.
Thank you so much, Jeremiah, August, and Mike, for taking the time to speak with us. You can catch Slapface on Shudder, Digital, VOD, and DVD now!