Skin care products, blemish creams, cosmetics, and plastic surgery: endless lines of beauty products and procedures comprise a lucrative industry marketed towards individuals chasing youthful perfection. However, for trauma survivors, physical scarring runs much deeper than simple vanity. In the case of Jack LeBlanc (Henry Frost: Deepwater Horizon 2016), a burn victim in Obsidian (Writer/Director Erica Summers: read my interview here), his badly scarred face is a daily reminder of a violent incident and his deepest regret.
Volunteering for an early clinical trial of a new miracle drug engineered to regenerate damaged tissue, Jack hopes to heal these painful reminders. However, deeper wounds begin to mend when he forms an unexpected bond with Iris (Olivia Peck: Unintentional Community 2018), another tester and trauma survivor. Other selected volunteers include a homosexual portrayed by Barry Harrison, Jr. in his debut role, David E. McMahon (Teacher Shortage 2020 – read our review here) as an angry homophobe with repressed sexual urges, a loveable wheelchair-bound asshole named Mick (Hick Cheramie: Unhinged 2020) and a promiscuous she-devil named Eileen (Alana Rose). And, in true reality TV fashion, all volunteers will be living together in the secluded home of pharmacologist Dr. James Walsh (Frank R. Wilson: Queen Sugar 2017) under the doctor’s careful supervision.
For her fourth feature-length film, Summers once again demonstrates her love for the horror genre. Immediately injecting shock with a brief flashback sequence, Obsidian opens with a glimpse of a fiery car wreck and the horrific aftermath. Snapping out of his hellish nightmare, Jack startles awake realizing he’s running late for an introductory meeting of the clinical trial he hopes will heal his external scars.
Upon arriving at the meeting, it’s clear Jack knows Dr. Walsh… although it’s unclear as to how. After reading the terms, a couple of prospective volunteers decide they aren’t desperate enough to risk everything from disorientation and blindness to hallucinations and death. So, they decline while the others venture off for a good time at the doctor’s abode.
Other than an ominous shack on the property, Doctor Walsh’s digs don’t look too bad. With a nearby lake, this place seems to be an ideal location to catch some R&R while the wonder drug works its magic. Aside from Jack and Mick who know each other from rehab, this group is comprised of complete strangers. So, there’s plenty of company to prevent one from going—shall we say—stir crazy. With group of traumatized strangers living under the same roof for three weeks taking a previously untested drug with a long list of possible side effects, what could possibly go wrong?
As the drug trial volunteers become familiar with one another, Summers strategically shows us more gruesome details of Jack and Mick’s individual backstories leaving little to the imagination. As sources of characters’ psychological trauma are revealed, some individuals begin to see promising results from the experiment. Though not directly addressed as cause and effect, this correlation is well thought out in the film’s structure. However, these positive changes of healing are short-lived as Obsidian takes an unexpected, ill-fated turn revealing horrible truths that rip scars from the past wide open. From here, this tale unravels into a Cronenberg-esque creature feature with Cabin Fever (2002) vibes.
Summers’ latest work is more than blood, guts, and gore. Obsidian is a heartfelt horror about surviving the past and self-acceptance in the present, all without sacrificing the gory practical SFX-created body-horror and visuals we all know and love.
By showcasing some depth, it comes as no surprise that Obsidian garnished a Gold Award for Best Director of a Horror upon its initial premiere last year. Although a VOD release is pending while distribution deals are being finalized, indie lovers can order a physical copy of the director’s cut here for a limited time only.