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Panic Fest 2023 Laced Review-Too Much Talking And Not Enough Action

I appreciate the simplicity of small sets. Closed-set thrillers allow for richer character development and wilder dynamics. The entire focus is on the people in the small space and what they are going through. This was the second chamber-piece genre movie I saw at Panic Fest 2023. A tension-driven thriller that lives in the same space as female-led twisters like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Body Heat but without the heat or the banging. Indy filmmaker Amelia Moses’ Bleed With Me, another chamber piece in a small cabin, does a remarkable job allowing the confines of the setting to seep into the drama, molding it into a tight chiller. Laced misses that mark and instead chooses to move around the space instead of in or through it.

In the middle of a massive snowstorm, a woman’s plans to kill her abusive husband derail when her brother arrives, putting everything at risk. The problem with said abusive husband is Kyle Buttenhoff doing triple duty as writer, director, and actor plays him, so benignly doddering Molly never appears to be in any imminent danger. Despite being told he is abusive through an expository dump late in the film and an early ominous phone conversation, he seems more dimwitted than anything else. Nonetheless, Charlie returns home on the night in question, drunk and sloppy but not remotely aggressive.

It’s a strange disconnect that affects the entire movie. If Molly was wrong or lying about Charlie before, maybe nothing we thought we knew was correct. Victoria, an abrasive and bossy Hermione Lynch, arrives shortly after Charlie eats a drug-laced dinner and wakes up paralyzed. It’s just the first of many blunders that this supposed murder expert makes, making it difficult to trust anything about her from the beginning. The two women have a strange chemistry between them that doesn’t feel authentic or healthy. Molly seems to have traded one controlling partner for another, which could have been interesting to watch if played for more effect. If the women had been given something other than an overly wordy script to flesh out their characters, maybe Laced would have been better.

While trying to clean up and escape after killing Austin, Molly’s brother and Austin’s best friend, Charlie(Zach Tinker), shows up and makes an even bigger mess of things. While he does nothing but cause trouble for Victoria, he and Molly obviously care about one another. He arrives halfway through the disastrous murder scheme, and instantly he and Molly share trust and love. Their affection for each other feels earned and natural, making the film’s climax the only impactful plot beat. His addition to Laced drives the film and allows some of the missteps to be forgiven.

The biggest problem with Laced is pacing, which slows to a grind occasionally due to too much talking with zero purpose. There are times when movies should be more show than tell, and Buttenhoff hasn’t mastered that balance. Lighting and staging are problematic as most of the movie takes place in what feels like the shadowyist house to ever exist, and zero visual clues address the supposed terrible storm raging outside. It makes seeing essential plot beats challenging to believe and takes away from the seamless story, which could have been helped with a little more backstory about all of them. Why was Molly so willing to trust Victoria when she is so unpleasant? How did Austin know nothing about what Charlie did to his sister?

There are moments when you can see these people, and this film has potential. Buttenhoff has a seed of an idea he needed to germinate. Tinker is charismatic on-screen even when he has very little to play against. For a casual watch that requires very little interaction with the story, Laced is efficient. Kyle Buttenhoff’s Laced will undoubtedly remind cinephiles of Diabolque: a bad man, two beautiful women, and a whole lot of deception. Unfortunately, the similarities end there. Find all our Panic Fest coverage here.