It opens with a gladiator-level war of attrition between two middle school-aged siblings in their backyard. The game is called “crazy ball” and the loser gets buried alive. Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and Luke (Owen Myre) pick-up their respective dodgeballs, throw them as far behind themselves as possible, and run after the other as fast as they can to try and take advantage of the five-point bonus “butt shot” rule. Writer/director Steven Kostanski shoots it like battle with blaring score, close-up scowls, and pools of mud leading towards the inevitable “switcheroo” that makes it so you can steal victory from the jaws of defeat with a punch to the gut. And through it all is the playful absurdity we can expect from a movie titled PG: Psycho Goreman.

The sequence’s best part, however, is an outlier lasting just a few seconds. Kostanski shifts the vantage point to what appears to be an upstairs window. Suddenly the music is gone, the manufactured air of make-believe aggression is stripped away, and we’re left watching as Luke does jumping jacks and Mimi twirls with ball overhead. It’s supposed to be this seminal moment that can decide their fate (because a giant grave will be dug with the earnest job of housing one of their still breathing bodies) and yet it’s intentionally brought back to Earth to remind us that they are children despite a ruthless strain of brutality Mimi probably won’t relinquish until well past puberty (if ever). They’re standing on the edge between reality and fantasy.

So when that grave inevitably leads to the discovery of an ancient tomb with a glowing gem upon its door, we barely bat an eye. If anything, we wait for the camera to pull back again and show us a piece of driftwood Mimi and Luke are collectively imagining as something more. It’s not Kostanski’s goal to trick us, though. He doesn’t set-up this blurred line to retroactively pretend that what we saw didn’t actually happen. He’s instead ensuring that we accept everything. That glimpse from the window presents the fact that whatever chaos unfolds will hit bystanders (like us) with the mix of fear, confusion, and laughter it deserves. These kids are little sociopaths. They revel in the carnage. Those outside their bubble do not.

What’s great about this choice is that we actually align more with Psycho Goreman (Matthew Ninaber; voiced by Steven Vlahos) than the two who found him. Whether or not he is a nightmarish monster hellbent on destroying the universe in his pursuit to snuff out the light is inconsequential when you realize that rage may actually be justified. Not only was he once enslaved by the supposed heroes of this intergalactic actioner (the Templars as led by Kristen MacCulloch’s Pandora; voiced by Anna Tierney), his resurrection now comes courtesy of a powerful gem currently wielded by Mimi’s hand. She is the oppressor (of him and her bullied brother). She’s the power-hungry maniac willing to use PG as a weapon with impunity. He’s helpless to stop her.

We therefore empathize with PG even as he hilariously growls about what he promises to do to everyone who crosses his path the second he regains the gem. We may not condone this predilection for destruction, but we do feel his frustration. We quickly recognize what a character says later about the impending fight for supremacy being one between “evil and greater evil.” Because neither Pandora nor Mimi is acting out of altruism. Neither is looking to box PG up to save lives. They do it because they know he’s the greatest adversary to their selfish goals. The scenes where he’s let loose amongst the public aren’t thus about him scaring innocents. They’re about Mimi using him to scare those her maliciously cruel persona yearns to control.

That’s not to say he wouldn’t do worse if able, just that there’s a complexity in play that goes beyond the comical premise. The film’s subject matter and aesthetic ultimately go beyond the family film morality of its premise to create its own set of problems (namely that things may devolve too much for adults to devote ninety-plus minutes as its horror violence pushes it to R-rated territory), but there’s still a lot to like on every level of its construction. I personally loved the one-liners (throwaway and prescient alike) delivered by all involved: especially from Mimi and Luke’s lazy slacker of a father Greg’s (Adam Brooks) inability to read the room before opening his mouth and their mother Susan (Alexis Kara Hancey) perpetually calling him out.

There’s also Kostanski’s willingness to go strange whenever the possibility arises. His creatures are grotesque with the hubris to match. His kills often eschew the usual balloon-popping decapitations (they’re here too) for sickening sights of torturous pain (Why would PG kill someone if he can force them to endure much worse?). And the dialogue meant to teach this otherworldly creature love refuses to fool itself into thinking it’s having any effect. Kostanski isn’t interested in character growth. He’s drawn this menagerie (monster and human alike) with enough deep-seeded flaws to make it so an enemy of my enemy scenario is the only way any party will ever agree to listen to another. The world is thus always on its own. No one here is a hero. They’re survivalists.

By never attempting to give anyone on-screen a path towards redemption, Kostanski keeps things entertaining. None of these people deserve absolution. They’re deplorable figures who either wreak havoc or relish in that havoc when those they serve dish it out. Innocents are murdered and blood is spilled constantly with a detached sense of revelry that lets us enjoy the gore without a shred of remorse. It’s silly throughout (sometimes to its detriment) and action-packed with fight sequences that literally let its combatants rip each other apart. PG declares that what he’s made Mimi and Luke see will scar them for life, but they merely look on gleefully with us instead. We love to hate them all, hoping they push that envelope further with each new day.

PG: Psycho Goreman opens limited theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on January 22 before streaming on Shudder later in the year.

Grade: C+

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