Film Review: A Beginners Guide to Snuff

This high-concept, low-budget black comedy uses the undying myth of real snuff movies to poke some mild fun at horror stereotypes.
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Dreams of fame and success drove buff, none-too-bright, Minnesota-born brothers Dresden and Dominic Winters (Joey Kern and Luke Edwards, who bear a passing resemblance to actual brothers Owen and Luke Wilson) to Los Angeles—and L.A. is kicking their asses: They're behind on the rent, Dres just got fired after one day of playing a costumed character on the downtown Hollywood streets and Dom can't even book a commercial that requires a single word of dialogue.

But their leering (and yet fundamentally sweet-natured) landlord, Jorge (Perry Laylon Ojeda), might just have a solution for their woes: Blood and Guts magazine is looking for the next great undiscovered horror filmmaker and is calling for submissions. The winner gets $250,000 plus a feature in the magazine and an evening with Freddie Prinze, Jr. Of course, the deadline is imminent—Jorge kept forgetting to tell the boys about the competition, perhaps because the sight of Dres loafing around in his tighty whities always sends him into a near-swoon.

But the bros have a great idea: What if they make a no-budget, faux-real snuff movie, written, directed, edited by and starring the two of them plus one lucky actress? And here's the brilliant part: Once they start shooting (found-footage style, of course, if only because the amateur aesthetic is a handy excuse for the fact that they really are total amateurs), they're going to convince their star that they intend to torture and murder her on camera for real. If that doesn't get them some bona-fide white-knuckle reaction shots, nothing will.

With a rented digital camera and the warehouse Jorge lets them use as a set, they can do this thing! Plus, Dres will get to swan around in a kinky bondage harness and use his flawless homicidal-maniac voice…just because—awesomeness! Too bad they laughed off the part of pretty, pouty-lipped "victim" Jennifer Sellers' (Bree Williamson) resume that mentioned krav maga and jujitsu proficiency because dude, everybody claims skills they don't have. And that's the joke, which is a little thin even for the movie's lean 87-minute running time.

That said, its coyote(s) vs. mad-as-hell-and-not-running-anymore roadrunner hijinks are sometimes amusing and there's a nice, loose rapport between the three leads. The Butcher Brothers—non-brothers Mitch Altieri and Phil Flores—have been making genre features (often in collaboration with Beginners Guide co-screenwriter Cory Knauf) since their 2006 suburban-vampire picture The Hamiltons and have carved out a gory, self-conscious genre niche. Plus, the ’70s-style title treatment is a sly little tip of the hat to the era when snuff-porn rumors were mainstream hot copy…see also the fact that Dom and Dres' audition sides are hastily photocopied pages from John Carpenter's Halloween and the film's poster, which features a conspicuous nod to the Spanish [REC] series.

It all screams "retro horror buffs, show us your creds," and that's fine: A Beginners Guide to Snuff is snippy little kick for folks who cut their genre teeth on ’70s grindhouse gore and never stopped loving those sleazy, cheesy, bloody little splats of horror happiness, but harbor no illusions about the ultimate value of their guilty pleasures.

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