Courtesy Chattanooga Film Festival

Eric Pennycoff is a director who created a well-loved combination of metal, fear, and Jeremy Gardner when he released Sadistic Intentions in 2019. Now appearing before a very enthused virtual audience at the Chattanooga Film Festival, Pennycoff’s second film THE LEECH provides us an even wilder ride. Set during the Christian-appropriated holiday known as Christmas (the horniest time of the year), Gardner and Pennycoff gather once again for a festive reminder of why we shouldn’t love our neighbor.

In an overly sized church, Father David (Graham Skipper) preaches before a nearly empty congregation. One of the handful of people in attendance turns out to be the sleepy Terry (Gardner) who only wants a place to rest. However, it’s closing time and a Christian church is no place for sanctuary. So, David, being the pious person he is, tries to take the very forward Terry home. Unfortunately, the exceedingly generous priest unwillingly places himself in the middle of a lover’s quarrel. And after the very angry Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke) throws out her mooching ex, David finds himself the sole friend of the now homeless Terry. #hospitality.

David loves being religious and Terry loves being loud and obnoxious, so very early on in the film, the story establishes itself as part of the Annoying-Houseguest genre. David tries to establish rules, and Terry ignores every one of them. But the plot thickens when David (while just doing his job) learns Lexi is pregnant and also now homeless. So, when she later arrives at the priest’s home looking for shelter, David must keep Lexi’s delicate news a secret from Terry. Reunited and successfully housed, Terry and Lexi try to relax and enjoy their new home, but like some Christian-run organizations that claim to help, David requires the couple to devote themselves to Jesus or else all they will have to leave. This portion of the film relies a lot on humorous coincidences and awkward situations, which will probably elicit some audible laughter or at least some snorts of derision from most audience members. Skipper’s meekness paired with Gardner’s unabashed directness definitely puts them in the lead for the most Uncomfortable Christmas Gathering award.

The amazing combination of Gardner, Skipper, and Zaudtke works really well as their characters’ sins play off of each other. While the secret boils inside of David, the true confessional occurs during a game of Never Have I Ever. We learn the couple has known each other for a long time and despite the fighting, they do seem to have a playful relationship. And David has (or at least had) a life outside of the church. But mixing in too much booze with two crass houseguests, the priest finds himself becoming frustrated with the situation. However, he holds a certain kind of ownership over the people he saved, and he becomes obsessed with playing the role of dutiful savior. The second half of the movie takes a significantly darker tone, and because I screened this movie mere hours after learning about the overturning of Roe vs Wade, Skipper’s priest character definitely filled me with hatred and frustration. I loved Skipper’s portrayal of the character, and I definitely appreciate Pennycoff giving the actor a chance to try something new, but my headspace at the time greatly affected how I approached the character of David.

THE LEECH’s cast is perfection and, despite me being a menorah-lighter, I love a good Christmas horror flick and I hope Arrow Video releases the film in time for the holidays. If you want to enjoy a sadistic messed-up holiday film, then Christmas came early for you with THE LEECH. If you are a person easily offended by queer sex, violence, and digs at the Catholic church, then thoughts and prayers to you.

THE LEECH had its World Premiere at the 2022 Chattanooga Film Festival.

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