One summer in Montreal, a young teen boy is persecuted by older teens in his neighborhood, who have nicknamed him Face. Left to his own devices, he resorts to wearing a mask to hide his visage and takes refuge in watching classic horror films at home.
But after a dare from his tormentors, he decides to enter an abandoned building supposedly menaced by a wild dog. But unbeknownst to the others, he takes matters into his own hands and uses the tricks of horror filmmaking to turn the tables.
Written and directed by Samuel Edward Mac, this dark coming-of-age drama has plenty of suspense and uneasiness, both in its portrayal of a kid's psychological torment at the hands of his peers and his deft usage of cinematic technique to outfox his bullies. Shot in luminous black-and-white, it's a homage to both the enduring craft and appeal of classic horror films, evoked with elegance and dynamism with its sometimes surreal images and the heightened dissonance of its sound design and score. The bullying directed at him makes Face feel like a monster to others, and he likely finds a kinship with the monsters he watches onscreen.
The storytelling itself is economical and to-the-point, keeping a steady pace as it raises the tension and suspense. But when provoked to his breaking point, Face takes matters into his own hands, deciding to give his bullies a taste of their own medicine. He doesn't resort to violence or revenge but instead takes a cue from the films he watches to create an illusion -- his own brand of storytelling magic, so to speak.
Young actor Matis Ross ably portrays the wariness of the hunted and persecuted, his body language tense even when his face is obscured by a mask. But that posture of fear and hiding transforms into a sense of confidence and power, as he finds the inner resourcefulness to stand up for himself.
A selection at Clermont-Ferrand, "Face" is as compelling and striking as its young protagonist, and though he speaks little, he inspires admiration as we watch him use his intelligence and creativity to devise a unique solution to his problems. "Empowerment" is a word that has sometimes devolved into cheap marketing speak, but here it's an apt description of a young person finding the strength and courage to stand up for himself and shed the shame that causes him to hide. The film's final images are those of exhilaration, found in the freedom of being one's self without fear.