There is something both old school and incredibly modern about Artik, the latest low-budget horror surprise from the good folks at Dread Central. The film posits a serial killer with influences that reflect both comic books and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's a strange, off-kilter mix of influences anchored by lead performances that bring those influences to bear.
Artik stars Jerry G. Angelo as the title character, a marble-mouthed serial killer who looks like a beefy Ben Affleck in a mountain man beard. Artik is a cold blooded killer who views murder as a family business and legacy. Artik has a wife, Flin Brays (Lauren Ashley Carter) who makes him clean up after his murderous messes, and a son he calls Boy Adam (Gavin White), who he is teaching to be a killer.
The plot of Artik kicks in when Boy Adam goes out searching for a new hunting ground for his father and meets Holton (Chase Williamson). Holton catches Adam vandalizing the side of the building where Holton works, but instead of running the boy off, Holton gives him his work gloves and the advice that getting paint on his hands will get him caught.
Holton befriends the boy, offering him a little something to eat, which Adam devours as if he's rarely been fed. When Adam comes back the next day, Holton presses the boy to talk about his family and the clear abuses he's been subject to. Eventually, Adam opens up and shares some disturbing comic book art that depicts some of the violence that Artik has committed with Adam as his assistant.
Disturbed but unsure how to proceed, Holton talks to a counselor friend who offers to investigate the family and see if the boy is in real danger or just possesses a very vivid and dark imagination. I will leave you to discover where that plot thread goes. Artik isn't particularly unpredictable, but it makes up for that with efficiency and well portrayed, heart-pounding brutality.
Artik was written and directed by Tom Botchii in his debut feature film. I have not seen his previous short films, but based off the evidence here, I imagine they are relentless and engaging. Artik is certainly relentless in its pace and efficiency. Artik is barely feature length, mostly due to a lengthy opening credits sequence, but it packs quite a horror wallop in that limited run time.
I particularly enjoyed the character details in both Artik and Holton. Artik loves comic books, he has them obsessively ordered and packaged in plastic. He's so certain of the orderly fashion of his comics that when some are out of place, it becomes a giveaway that someone is on his property who should not be. I don't follow comics closely enough to know if his dialogue before making a kill is related to some comics mythology, but it would make sense given the entertaining oddity of his deathly monologue.
For his part, Holton is straight edge. Holton has never had alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes. He even recently gave up meat and became a vegan. Where Artik indulges his dark fantasies in seeking to purify humanity in blood, Holton has found purity within himself, as he sees it. There is a scene of point counterpoint between the two characters that I really enjoyed and that effectively kept the movie going after having painted itself into a corner.
The performances by Jerry G Angelo and Chase Williamson are wonderfully effective. Angelo's marble-mouthed speechifying may be a tad incomprehensible and obscure, but he delivers it with chilling effect. Williamson, meanwhile, infuses Holton with a friendly charisma, welcoming empathy, and emotional intelligence. Both actors are well cast, and I hope both go on to do big things.
For now though, I am very happy to have both actors toiling in the world of low budget horror. Their talent elevates the genre—and what genre could not use an elevating talent? Artik is a suspenseful, scary, and intense horror thriller anchored by terrific lead performances and a relentless pace. Artik arrives in theaters September sixth in a limited run and will be available for streaming rental shortly after.