SXSW 2019: PORNO is a Campy Fever Dream for Fans of Gross-Out Gore and Horror Comedy

Four teens unleash a sex demon in Keola Racela directorial feature film debut, PORNO at SXSW, Autin, Texas.

There was plenty of buzz about PORNO, leading up to its SXSW 2019 world premiere in Austin, Texas this weekend. The premise (teens unleash a sex demon in a movie theatre) and genre (horror comedy) evokes hopeful comparisons to contemporaries like CABIN IN THE WOODS, and TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL. Additionally, there are plenty of nods to horror classics like THE SHINING — there’s a photo on the wall in one scene inside an archive room that may be a replica of the party photo Jack Torrence finds himself ensconced within. So what do audiences desire then, from horror comedy? From classics like SCREAM to Netflix’s recent THE BABYSITTER, successful films in this genre have great scares and better jokes.

PORNO premieres at SXSW 2019, Austine, Texas.

The scares in PORNO are mainly of the jump variety, frequently motivated by the excellent music cues. The film is a graduate of the Sundance Institute Film Music and Sound Design lab, and indeed the score (composed by Carla Patullo) is often where this movie really succeeds.  The gore SFX, particularly the genital mutilation scenes, are not so much scary as they are over-the-top gross. “Chekhov’s Gun” in this movie is (spoiler alert) exploding balls.

The jokes in PORNO tend to lean juvenile though there are a few stand-out one-liners. In the first act, “straight edge” projectionist Heavy Metal Dave (played by a scene-stealing Robbie Tann) comments “That guy thinks he’s doing drugs. But the drugs are doing him.”

Keola Racela, PORNO’s director, says he primarily set out to make a film that he would enjoy as a teenager. This movie is Racela’s debut feature, who cut his teeth on three eclectic shorts. One notable film of the trio is 2015’s EMERGENCY CONTACT starring Kate Flannery (Meredith on THE OFFICE). The writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli are Racela’s fellow Columbia College alums.

Fans of campy comedic horror may enjoy this feature, though viewers searching for depth from the plot, themes, and character will find themselves wading ankle deep in dick jokes, two-dimensional stock characters, and Christian inspirational quotes. The film struggles to keep its tone throughout the middle, partly due to a derailing and underdeveloped plot point involving one character’s sexuality and Christian conversion camp.

When writing camp, the line between “so bad it’s good” and “just bad” is thin, and there are places where PORNO ends up on the wrong side. The film’s treatment of women is also not great. Perhaps this impression is colored by this movie’s proximity to other more nuanced horror pieces like US, or more thoughtful examinations of the hypocrisy of contemporary Christians as seen in YES, GOD, YES. PORNO is probably best enjoyed as a late night fare, and most entertaining after liberal libations.

PORNO, directed by Keola Racela and written by Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli. Starring Evan Daves, Larry Saperstein, Jillian Mueller, Glenn Stott, Robbie Tann, Bill Phillips, Katelyn Pearce, and Peter Reznikoff.

See you next year at SXSW 2020!


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