It’s the weekend of the Mass Acre Woods Prep school reunion, and Jessica is sat in the car park outside the venue waiting for her absent fiancé to show up, Simon, the most popular boy of the class of 2004. She could go in without him but hesitates for two reasons: she has no invitation and no wish to see anyone who might already be inside, but fate intervenes when she is spotted and recognised by first Ben then her “best friend” Sara.
With no choice other than to put on the brave face and make merry, the reunion is as unspeakably awkward as she dreaded, mingling with underachievers, overachievers, stoners and the nervous guy from chess club, a parade of faces associated with little other than bad memories topped by the call from Simon that he won’t be coming, nominating Jessica to take his place in the paintball games the following day.
Predictably, the ongoing rivalry between Rob and Aiden doesn’t take long to surface, team captain Dan’s three tours of duty in Afghanistan are manifesting less in leadership than PTSD, and with their mobiles locked up back at base and the nearest outpost of civilisation several miles across through the forest if they even knew which direction to head, the Mass Acre Woods Crew may be back together but someone in the game isn’t playing by the rules.
Directed by Darren Berry, the title Paintball Massacre gives something of an indication of what to expect, a low-budget British horror comedy of shenanigans, sarcasm, survival and sacrifice led by a diminishing ensemble who writer Chris Regan takes the time to introduce in all their quirks and ineptitude before whittling them down in a variety of bespoke terminal interventions.
Awful teenagers who grew into awful adults, Cheryl Burniston’s Jessica and Lee Latchford-Evans depressed fireman Nathan are initially the only sympathetic characters while Natasha Killip’s Lauren mouthy attitude is a refreshing change from the alpha male posturing, but while Lockhart Ogilvie’s lifeguard Tommy is as shallow as he seems, others among them are not as they might present themselves, strangers who once knew each other tied by a shared past they had believed long buried.
Aiming for the splatter rather than high art, Paintball Massacre is at its best when letting itself go, a premise which needs to be played outrageously but whose limitations often necessitate editing around the killer blow or only showing the aftermath, all the more frustrating when other moments, some disturbing, others hilarious, are targeted so precisely, occasional crack shots among the covering fire.
Paintball Massacre is released on DVD and digital download on Monday 5th April