Spoiler-Free Reviews: STAG and AMERICAN MELTDOWN (Chattanooga Film Festival)

June 28, 2023

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Stag (2022)


Writer/director Alexandra Spieth’s horror comedy Stag balances those two styles together nicely while adding some serious drama to the mix. The result is an amusing feature that aims for the feelings as well as the fear and fun factors. Jenny (Mary Glen Fredrick) learns through  social media that her former best friend Mandy (Elizabeth Ramos) — “I go by Amanda now”— is getting married. The estranged friends make an awkward reconnection over the phone during which Mandy invites Jenny to her bachelorette party trip, which is being held at a remote property on which a young woman was rumored to have been sacrificed. Jenny gives new meaning to the term socially awkward as she finds herself among the other guests, maid of honor Willa (Liana Hunt) and her younger sister Casey (Stephanie Hogan) — whose family owns the property— Leslie (Safiya Harris), and Constance (Katie Wieland). Strangely acting one-eyed groundskeeper Devon (Daniel Boyd) is on hand to make things weirder, as Jenny starts to get suspicious after one of the party seems to be missing. Spieth mines the difficult relationship between Jenny and Mandy wonderfully, investing the film with well-written and well-portrayed drama to go along with plenty of humor and suspense. Fredrick gives a stand-out performance, infusing her character with a nervous energy only made worse by her gut feelings that border on paranoia to some of those around her. The cast members portraying the other partygoers also turn in solid work. Stag is a highly entertaining feature-length directorial debut from a multitalented filmmaker, and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing what Spieth has in store next.




American Meltdown (2023)



In writer/director Andrew Adams’ comedy/crime feature American Meltdown, Olivia Walker (Jacki Von Preysing) is having a difficult time, to put it mildly. Having just lost her job and being the victim of a robbery, she is having a great deal of trouble coming up with her rent. A chance meeting with pickpocket Mari Navarro (Nicolette Sweeney) opens her eyes to the possibilities of a new source of income: petty crime. Adams directs his sharp script with energy and verve, and his two antiheroes are brought to frenzied cinematic life by Von Preysing and Sweeney, who display terrific chemistry together as they form a highly unusual friendship. The supporting players also turn in fine performances, including DeMorge Brown as Detective Ed Sampson, who is trying to get to the bottom of a case involving Olivia and Mari; Shaun Boylan as Officer Joe Bronson, whose nonchalant investigation of the break-in at Olivia’s home takes a sharp turn; and Christopher Mychael Watson as Rich, Olivia’s none-too-helpful ex-boyfriend. American Meltdown, described in its logline as “A Millenial Coming-of-Rage” story, is a darkly comic take on current social issues in the United States, and a highly entertaining one at that, boasting solid direction, impressive dialogue and story arcs, admirable production values, and a fun number of surprises. 



Stag and American Meltdown screen as part of Chattanooga Film Festival, which runs June 23–29, 2023, in person and with a virtual version. For more information, visit https://www.chattfilmfest.org/.

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