POPCORN FRIGHTS: The Leech (2022)

Father David (Graham Skipper, the director of Sequence Break) is a devout priest who has never missed a Mass, never eaten meat on a Good Friday and never misses the opportunity to speak on God’s love, including when he invites Terry (Jeremy Gardner, the director of After Midnight and the man who told his mother not to watch this movie) and Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke, Gardner’s real-life wife) to stay during the holidays.

It starts as a simple act of kindness and nothing can go wrong, right? But throw in a game of never have I ever, then have a good man — in his head if perhaps not as much in his heart — get tempted and things are ready to go off the rails.

Director and writer Eric Pennycoff also made Sadistic Intentions, which starred Gardner and Zaudtke, and he puts together a movie with a small cast, a smart script and a mix of madness and black humor as the priest finds himself in a place — and perhaps a position — that he had never prepared for.

I also loved Rigo Garay, who plays RIgo the organ player, perhaps the only character brave enough to tell Father David that he hasn’t had a parishioner attend Mass in weeks and that he’s just been giving sermons to an empty church. But if that’s true, who are the prophetic — and perhaps Satanic — voices who come to confession? And what’s with the young padre’s frequent confessions of his own to that horrifying painting?

There’s an incredible moment near the end where an off-the-deep-end Father David throws on his vestment and rants on the altar while arguing with a red-lit Terry — or a vision of him — before learning that — and this is the biggest spoiler warning I can give — that the real Terry has beaten his wife and snorted David’s mother’s ashes.

I mean, this is a movie that has a priest with his head wrapped up straight out of Threads losing his mind and a last shot that will make you think long after the Christmas carol-scored credits run out.

The Leech is playing at Popcorn Frights and will be available to watch virtually as part of the festival.

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