It wasn’t too long ago that an independent filmmaker named Eli Roth made waves with a biological horror film called Cabin Fever, infecting a group of friends with a devastating waterborne disease. In many ways, director Hank Braxtan appears to be searching for the same gory success with his new movie Chemical Peel, a bodily horror film that opts for an airborne toxin with nasty side effects if inhaled for too long. Where Roth excelled at building a strong cast and squeamish gore, Braxtan fails to achieve the same level of success while working with hammed up characters, some pretty atrocious dialogue and plot holes galore. Braxtan’s eco-horror scenario is a lot like living in Mexico, except in addition to not drinking the water, you can’t breathe the air or eat most food, either.
Chemical Peel is your typical bachelorette-party-gone-bad, interrupted by deadly fumes that form when a train derails and mixes chemicals that should never physically meet. With poison in the air, Angela (Arielle Brachfeld) and her bridal party are forced to seal themselves inside their vacation-house-turned-hideaway. Since the chemicals are passed through the air, there’s a chance it may already be too late, but the girls try to remain positive while searching for radio signals containing rescue plans. With time running out the girls start to put together a survival strategy, but discover that something else might cause their untimely demise if the burning air doesn’t.
Hank Braxtan could have a fun little bit of gruesome horror on his hands, but the deplorable nature of most his characters prevents the film from ever taking off, like a heavy ball-and-chain. Chemical Peel isn’t happy solely relying on terrorist paranoia and deteriorating health for tension, as bride-to-be Angela continually proves to be an unlikable instigator. Even in the face of impending doom, this bitchy Bridezilla has time to emotionally torment and verbally berate people who are only trying to help, constantly diverting attention from proper survival skills to her abhorrently revolting personality. This is all part of the plan, which makes sense later on, but that doesn’t make Angela’s nonsensical attacks any less unwatchable.
As for the remaining survivalists, there’s such a lax mood put on practicality that almost every scene can be called into question somehow. With the possibility of infection present and airborne toxins seeping into the house at a slow pace, there’s an unnatural balance between sound logic and completely irrational actions that once again distract from the larger disaster at hand.
When one of the females starts vomiting blood, all but sealing her queasy fate, another girl attempts to perform CPR on the girl’s goo-covered lips, leaving sticky strands of bile whenever their lips are separated for another breath. Yes, with the threat of speeding up any “possible” infections, the same girl who suggests sealing all the windows ignores obvious biological hazards and comes into direct contact with “possibly” tainted blood. Chemical Peel stresses proper survival tactics at times, but opts for blissful ignorance whenever a rad shot can be utilized, which is a gamble that pays off 50% of the time.
Braxtan’s talents aren’t represented enthusiastically throughout his film’s script, but he does make up for a corroded story with some singing glimpses of chemical gore. The chemical possesses an acidic quality over time, deteriorating the bodies of most characters, but a few special victims suffer extremely bloody deaths thanks to accelerated reactions. A particular shower scene stands out as the water turns from clear to blood-red in a heartbeat, starting to eat the flesh away from the poor girl’s body. Braxtan and company show they can bring a ferocious amount of carnage when called upon, but such horrific highs can’t counterbalance poorly crafted characters who challenge our patience with every unwarranted hissyfit.
Chemical Peel ends up being a cut-rate Cabin Fever wannabe, unable to match squeamish gore with seedy storytelling. There are too many coincidental deaths, too many unlikable characters, and far too many estrogen-fueled dramatics for a tense biological thriller. The moments that achieve true horror just aren’t worth the fatty filler material that’s crammed in between, something I hope Hank Braxtan can cut down on come his next feature film.