Movies: Revealer (2022)

I’ve generally had good luck with most of the Shudder originals and exclusives that I’ve watched; the team at Shudder seem to have a decent handle on ably curating what appears on their streaming service, and almost everything they acquire is at least worth watching (and no, I’m not sponsored by them; I’ve just had Shudder for several years and I genuinely really like it, especially for the very reasonable price). So on a recent livestream when someone in the chat recommended the 2022 Shudder original Revealer to me, I put it on my list immediately. The poster looks great, with that 80s, new-retro-wave vibe that I love, and the one-sentence synopsis I read sounded like a lot of fun.

Revealer is the feature film debut of Luke Boyce, whose previous works included some well-regarded documentaries and a widely praised 2017 short film titled The Pooka (which is completely unrelated to the Hulu original horror films Pooka! from 2018 and Pooka Lives! from 2020). Boyce also wrote the film, with assists from comic author and novelist Michael Moreci (Burning Fields, Roche Limit) and comic artist and writer Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash, Revival). The movie clearly had a miniscule budget, and was shot during the COVID lockdown in the summer of 2020, but it has a very ambitious premise for its extremely limited locations and small cast.

After a brief and sort of strange teaser prologue at the beginning, in which a televangelist who never appears again seems to be enduring some type of judgment in a narrow hallway lit in hellish red, we get into the story proper. Caito Aase plays Angie, a wise-ass, no-nonsense stripper who makes her living dancing in a peep show booth in a sleazy adult bookstore called Revealers in 1987 Chicago. Her arch nemesis is Sally (Shaina Schrooten), an uptight Bible thumper with tragic frizz and enormous 80s nerd glasses, who heads a protest group that has camped out in front of the joint, waving their signs and screeching at anyone who dares to enter the den of iniquity to watch the ladies within shaking their sinful moneymakers. I was immediately pulled in by this scenario, as it gave me a very Satanic Panic sort of energy.

Angie has clearly had enough of these religious weirdos making her already hard life even more difficult, but she also seems to enjoy verbally sparring with Sally, mostly because it’s so easy to offend her tender sensibilities. After some back and forth in the parking lot, Angie goes into the building where we’ll be spending pretty much the rest of the movie. She shares some banter with the owner/manager Ray (Bishop Stevens), there’s some foreshadowing about how the door of her peep booth always sticks, and then she goes to work, dancing on her chair in some beautiful pink and blue neon light as a series of panting dudes push five-dollar-bills through the slot to watch her.

Not too long into the festivities, though, something dire seems to occur outside. We see a brief shot of Sally’s awed and terrified face against the sky, which is boiling with clouds and shot through with lightning that doesn’t look all that natural. Angie, still in her booth and waiting for the next customer, starts hearing banging and screaming from out in the parking lot, and can’t get Ray to answer her when she asks him what’s going on. The protesters all try to pile into the bookstore, but Ray forces them out; only Sally manages to make her way in and hide in one of the booths adjoining Angie’s.

Once everything goes quiet, Sally reveals through the booth’s wall that all hell has literally broken loose outside; in short, the end of the world is at hand. Of course Angie doesn’t believe her at first, figuring if anything apocalyptic is going on then it must be the fault of the Russians, but Sally is insistent, and what’s more, gets really sanctimonious about it, certain that she will eventually be raptured up to Heaven while Angie’s harlot ass will be judged and left to suffer for eternity on the Hell the Earth will now become.

This is essentially the premise, in a nutshell: yes, the Biblical apocalypse is happening in 1987, and Angie is trapped in her peep show booth (the door sticks, remember) and subject to the insufferable piety of her worst enemy. As the story goes on, though, and as the two diametrically opposed women have to work together to make their way out of the booth and into the bootlegging tunnels beneath the city while being pursued by the demon Asmodeus, they begin to develop a mutual respect as they get to know one another as people and realize that they’re not as different as they once believed.

As I mentioned, this is very obviously a low-budget film: it takes place almost entirely inside an adult bookstore and in a series of underground brick tunnels, and any hint as to the epic, end-of-the-world shit that’s presumably going on outside comes mostly from sound effects and from Sally’s character, who is well-versed in the Book of Revelation and knows what’s going on at any given moment (for example, knowing that the third trumpet signifies the star, Wormwood, falling to the Earth and poisoning all the water, and so forth). We don’t actually see any of this stuff, but as I said, it’s a low-budget indie, and I actually admire the filmmakers’ spirit in making a movie with this vast a scope and bringing it down to a more intimate level. There are some CGI worm/snake type creatures that the women have to fight occasionally, and the demon Asmodeus shows up at the end (as a guy in an okay costume), but for most of the film’s runtime, we’re just following Angie and Sally as they’re trying to come to terms with what’s happened, and working together to get themselves out of whatever minor scrapes arise along the way.

I wouldn’t necessarily call this a horror comedy, though it does have humor in it (hard not to love a movie that uses the phrase “cooze bruise”), and there is some gore and violence, but not very much. Because this is essentially a buddy film or a character study, just with a cool, retro, apocalyptic veneer, it’s a goddamn good thing that both of the lead actors are dynamite, and actually got me really invested in their characters and their struggles. I obviously related with Angie way more, but even though Sally started out the journey as a condescending, judgmental harpy, as the movie went on and more about her was revealed, she also became sympathetic, and I actually did buy into the friendship that eventually develops between the two women. I’m not sure if lesser actors could have carried this type of film, because so much of the success of the premise is resting on their shoulders, but these two knocked it out of the park.

Although Revealer will not be for everyone (I’ve seen some pretty scathing reviews of it, not gonna lie, but I’ve also seen some really rapturous ones as well; and yes, the pun was very much intended), I actually really enjoyed it quite a bit. It was noticeably hemmed in by its tiny budget, the pacing sagged in places, and the special effects looked a bit cheesy, but the score and music (much of it by Gunship) was awesome, the 80s neon look was gorgeous, the two leads were stellar and really sold their characters, and their journey toward mutual understanding was genuine and heartfelt, even though some of the dialogue was slightly on the nose. I thought the end was a tad ambiguous, but I didn’t mind it; it is the end of the world, after all, so it would be hard to “win” against something like that. I’ll also add that if you’re going to watch it, keep watching through the start of the credits, because the movie opens up and shows more of what happened in the world outside the bookstore. I’ve also heard that there’s going to be a sort of sequel comic that will carry on the story, which I think is a great idea, as this type of concept probably needs to be expanded in a medium where there aren’t any budgetary constraints.

If you like small-scale, eschatological buddy horror with some new wave flair, then give this one a spin; don’t expect a big epic showdown between good and evil, just relax and hang out with these flawed characters as they navigate the end of the world (or at least the tunnels beneath it). And until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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