[Review] "The 6th Friend" is an interesting depiction of trauma and how it threatens our friendships
If you look closely, there has been one hell of an impressive shift in the horror genre, one that’s long overdue: While the genre has starred and celebrated women for a long time, fans are finally getting films that don’t just feature women, but are ABOUT women. Not about the girl who has to face the ominous driller killer, but about women facing real world problems which often go unnoticed in a horror film setting. The 6th Friend is the latest to join the genre…
…Directed by Letia Clouston (The Midwife’s Deception) and written by Clouston and Jamie Bernadette (first feature as a writer), The 6th Friend tells the story of six women who, five years ago, killed a man while drugged after finding him raping one of them. Now, five years later, they have gathered at a remote cabin in order to repair their friendships and deal with the trauma still eating away at them, only to discover that the man they murdered may be back to punish them for his death.
Clouston and Bernadette create real, well rounded characters all dealing with the trauma of killing a man in their own way. Bernadette delivers a powerful performance as Joey, who has done her best to forget by shutting herself off from the world completely. Mel (Chantelle Albers) has resorted to telling the world her story as some kind of therapy on a national stage, and Katie (Jessica Morris), once adventurous, is now a quiet, distant person. Between these three and the other girls, Heather (Dominique Swain), Sahara (Tania Nolan), and Becca (Monique Rosario), the audience is given a different viewpoint on the personal effects of trauma and how we as people attempt to move on from it. Each is perfect in their roles, in particular Bernadette and Albers, who prove themselves to be masters of the emotional spectrum with sometimes tragic, sometimes eerie displays of raw emotion. But like all great horror villains, trauma always lingers a few steps behind these women, stalking its victims and waiting for the moment to strike.
That may be a dark take, but The 6th Friend is a dark film. The filmmakers understand this though, adding a bit of light though natural humor to soften the blow of what is otherwise a painful film. Despite their varying degrees of PTSD, the women in The 6th Friend all have a realistic, good natured fun side to them that works to pull the audience into their relationships, a technique which makes the killing to come later hurt that much more. More importantly, there is a positive sense of womanhood and empowerment amongst these girls. As I mentioned before, Clouston’s film is actually about women and everyday issues. With conversations like an entire scene discussing what the proper use, if any, of the word “bitches” is, the audience is given a powerful sense that these girls are willing to stand up and kill for each other, and perhaps even die for one another, something which we see later on. What these women did to the man who raped one of them, Tyler (David Villada) is a primal reaction ignited by the need to protect each other and stick together. In fact, a theme which plays out through The 6th Friend is that it’s only when someone decides to abandon the others that they meet their demise, at least early on.
What’s most interesting is how Clouston and Bernadette toy with the concept of just how drastically a single man can alter a woman’s entire life with his selfish actions. This is something we saw a lot of in 2018, especially with films like Unsane, which depicts how Claire Foy’s character must change everything about her life, simply because one guy becomes obsessed with her. Rape, obsession, disappointment, these are fears which women face every day when dealing with men, and The 6th Friend manages to take those realities and twist them into a supernatural entity which is relentlessly stalking these women. This is best represented by an incredibly unsettling moment when all six girls realize that they have all been seeing what must be the ghost of Henry stalking them in the skeleton mask he was wearing on that tragic night. The reveal vaguely reminded me of the scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street, when our group of teens learn that they’ve all been seeing the same burnt bastard with knives for fingers in their dreams. For the viewer, it’s the sort of moment that pricks up the hairs on the back of your neck like tiny icicles.
Unlike Wes Craven’s wildly imaginative flick, Clouston keeps The 6th Friend simple and subtle, preferring an eerie vibe over high octane scares and over the top effects. The kills in the film have a more realistic and ugly presentation, limited on gore but high on brutality and cruelty. There’s something uniquely painful about seeing someone stumble around as they're hit over and over again with an iron skillet. Horror fans expecting a fun slasher will be disappointed by this, because there is nothing fun or entertaining about how these women are dispatched. That can be viewed as a positive or negative depending on the eye of the beholder, but the result is still the same: when these characters are knocked off, it isn’t exciting. It’s downright sad.
There is a case to be made that The 6th Friend could use an injection of “fun”. Bernadette’s script opens with drug-fueled insanity, with our hopped-up characters seeing mouths where eyes should be and such. I would argue that the filmmakers actually miss an opportunity to create something a little more unique in terms of the villain, since drugs do play an important role in the events of the film, but the audience hardly ever sees a noticeable effect. Rather than toy with the villain through an LSD-coated lens perfect for subjecting the characters and us to nightmarish imagery, our skeleton-faced killer is left rather faceless (no pun intended), and uninteresting. What begins as an eerie person in a mask soon becomes mundane, as we’re left with a killer lacking in personality and the sort of charm attributed to those such as Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers.
Similar to the killer, The 6th Friend also falls into a pacing trap which slows down the progression of the film. Because Clouston and Bernadette are trying to create a sense of mystery around what is a rather obvious conclusion in terms of that night five years ago, the film repeatedly cuts back to that night, as if we are going to discover some new revelation, but that revelation never comes. This sort of editing can make the film feel disjointed, especially when it begins cutting into moments that should be more pulse-pounding. It’s like when you’re finally about to take that first bite of a good meal, and the waiter spills a tray of water in your lap. You’ll want to be fully engaged in the suspense which Clouston is trying to build, but The 6th Friend constantly gets in its own way with the editing and pacing.
All of this could be forgiven if not for a finale that falls flat on its face harder than that cast iron skillet knocking someone in the head. For a film which sets itself firmly in realism, Clouston and Bernadette’s script takes a sharp turn which risks derailing the entire film with its implausibility. I’ll give The 6th Friend credit, the end twist is certainly surprising, but it’s the sort of thing that makes you frown and say, “wait, what?”, because it opens up unnecessary questions that when explored, begin to make other aspects of the film not make as much sense. I won’t spoil anything for you here, but let’s just say the ending takes the eerie concept of Tyler haunting all of these women over the years and asks us to take too large a leap of faith in believing that that was ever possible.
At the end of it all, The 6th Friend is an important step forward with the genre and its depiction of women, with great characters all performed by talented actresses. There are those who probably won’t enjoy the film’s stark realism and questionable conclusion, but for those who want to see an interesting commentary on the female bond and the very real threats which threaten to break that bond, then The 6th Friend is well worth the watch.
The 6th Friend releases on January 11th on VOD.
By Matt Konopka