At first glance, Messy Boys appears to be a very contemporary and oddly familiar horror flick with all the hallmarks of its subgenre lined up like a checklist. A young woman who has fallen on hard times and is looking for work. A questionable employment opportunity in which nothing is as it first appears. It’s a story that’s been told countless times by this point, but director Kyle Kleege manages to inject his short with some originality by adding a healthy dose of satire. Though the end result might not be the sum of its parts, it’s still a film worth seeing for the concept alone.
Kleege immediately sets the tone with a disturbing exchange between actors Evan Jones and Elizabeth Pietrangelo. The two grimly lay the groundwork for the ride ahead in a memorable opening scene. Pietrangelo is excellent as Alina, as both her performance and the role she plays help to anchor the movie regardless of the outlandish places it explores later on. Sadly, she is the lone standout among a group of mediocre characters that range from uninteresting to excessively self-indulgent. Benny, played by a bathrobe-clad John Michael Decker is effective early on, but he overstays his welcome with a slew of unbelievably hammy quips. Ben Amendolara’s Lance is essentially an exposition machine and gives very little to work with in terms of meaningful dialogue.
Where Kleege’s film succeeds greatly is in the chills department. The inventive, locked-off visuals pack a punch, yet leave much to the imagination during the more distressing sequences. It’s a very disciplined approach to horror that allows audiences to fill in the blanks and speculate. The way cinematographer Lakota Ruby-Eck chooses to leave the camera lingering on David Perez and Peter Schrom (who play Leather and Dog, respectively) makes a lasting impression.
Perhaps the film’s strongest element is how it leaves the door wide open for conversation after its final scene. There is a fair amount of subtext to unpack beyond the shocking nature of its finale, which also encourages a rewatch. Aside from its hit-or-miss characters, Messy Boys is a solid dark comedy-horror hybrid with ideas worth seeing and discussing.