Signal Horizon

See Beyond

Shudder Secrets: Revealer: Apocalyptic Nightmare Fuel

Courtesy of Shudder

The trend of horror films set in the 1980s continues with Shudder’s latest original, Revealer. Set in Chicago in 1987, the film finds a religious protestor trapped in a peepshow booth with a dancer. Outside, the world goes to hell, literally.

While I’ve grown tired of the barrage of horror films and TV shows soaked in nostalgia, Revealer uses the setting well. The battle lines between the two leads feel incredibly relevant. Like the Satanic Panic period of the 1980s, the cultural wars and conspiracy theories rage once again. The last few years have seen sustained and increasing attacks on everything from abortion rights to LGBTQ issues. After some progress, we’re now in the middle of another conservative backlash, like the right-wing counterrevolution that happened in the 1980s.  All of this makes Revealer incredibly timely, entertaining, and interesting.

Revealer’s Cultural Warriors

Directed by Luke Boyce, the film stars Caito Aase as Angie Pitarelli and Shaina Schrooten as Sally Mewbourne. These women couldn’t be more different from each other. Angie makes do by dancing at a porn shop run by Ray (Bishop Stevens), who sports white shorts, a white shirt, and a matching headband. When he’s not stocking the shelves with the latest NC-17 releases, he looks like he could have stepped out of a workout video. Seriously, was this dude in one of Jane Fonda’s exercise vids, lurking somewhere in the background? Sally, meanwhile, spends every moment of her free time protesting outside of the store, trying to shut down the peepshows. She’s quick with Bible quotes to condemn everyone who strays from a righteous path, especially Angie.

A mysterious, apocalyptic force traps the women inside a peepshow booth. Initially, their cultural views make it tough to work together. Sally calls Angie a harlot and foul person, beholden to Satan. At one point, she adds, “The Book of Revelation is happening right now…if it wasn’t covered in your liberal news media, you wouldn’t have heard of it.” When the end of the world starts, she’s sure she’ll be saved. Angie, meanwhile, is destined for eternal agony, due to her lifestyle choices. Schrooten’s performance here is the right sort of over the top, bordering on the absurd. Her character’s views both amuse and terrify.

Sally’s disdain for mainstream news outlets and her eagerness to judge others different from her feels all too familiar. She could be a stand-in for a member of the far-right today, protesting the very same issues, or showing up at school board meetings to ban books. Of course, there’s a reason why Sally is the way she is. The clues and hints occur early. Without spoiling a major turn in the last third of the movie, let’s just say that Sally is a little hypocritical. She’s quick to judge others because she can’t quite reconcile her true self. Isn’t this often the case? She’s ashamed of who she is and deflects by acting holier than thou.

Revealer Revels in the 1980s

The film establishes its tone and setting immediately. In the opening, a crackling TV plays a commercial by a televangelist begging for money. This guy is also trapped and about to face damnation. Yet the opening serves a few purposes. It sets the 1980s timeframe, yes, but it also underscores the hypocrisy of these religious zealots. This preacher claims to have done nothing wrong. But more than once, in the commercial, he begs viewers for money. He values profit over the actual word of God.

There are plenty of other nods to the 1980s, too, including a gnarly synth score by Alex Cuervo and a fondness for cassette tapes. But it’s the influence and the spread of the Satanic Panic hysteria that really drives much of the film, especially Sally’s character. She’s eager to shame Angie because she’s afraid to acknowledge her true self. Her character arc, especially the growth she eventually obtains when she’s forced to work with Angie, is excellent and well-crafted. Neither woman is cliché. Their backstories unfold with time.

Courtesy of Shudder

The overall pacing here is good, revealing the true inner workings of Angie and Sally. While Sally’s afraid to acknowledge who she is, Angie explains how she has no other option than to dance for money. She’s charged with raising her nephew, David, whose parents have too many demons to serve as adequate caregivers. At least the end of the world allows the women to better understand each other. It’s also refreshing to see Angie accept who she is, including her bold sexuality. She refuses to feel ashamed of what she does and instead embraces it. Neverminded what the religious wackadoodles have to say about it.

Revealer’s Wicked Cool Demons

Revealer showcases great performances by Pitarelli and Schrooten. But that’s not the only highlight. The special effects make the most of the low budget and there are some wicked cool monsters. Snakes slither and look like the chest-burster in Alien. There’s also a big, bad demon dude who shows up near the last act. These baddies transform Chicago into a true hellscape.

The film also does its best to utilize a few concepts and images from the Book of Revelation. Sally, the all-knowing expert on all things biblical, points out the various trumpets that signal another shift to end-times doom and gloom. Meanwhile, the peep show booth/porn shop morphs into a layered maze with a new danger lurking around each corner. The women become trapped underground, caught in a special version of hell. They’re unsure if anyone on Earth survived. Do the caverns lead to the center of the Earth? Does each imposing door open another pathway to hell? It’s unclear. Regardless, the set designs create a sense of isolation and entrapment that serve the film well. They look like something from the pages of a Clive Barker novel.

Revealer Is a Hellish Good Time

Overall, Revealer has far more pros than cons. Watching Sally and Angie evolve into fierce demon slayers is the main highlight here. But the film contains great special effects, creative monsters/demons, and cultural war issues that resonate today. We’re living in another period where there’s book banning, a resurgent far-right, and debates over the way concepts of race and sexuality are taught in public schools. This is a film steeped in some of that 80s hysteria that never really ended.

Revealer is mostly a two-woman show that entertains, surprises, and delights. The film is one wicked good time. It comes to Shudder on June 23. For more of the streaming service’s new and original content, be sure to check out my Shudder Secrets column.