Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Rivermen Productions and Co-Writer/Director, Kristian Lariviere (along with primary writer Jennifer Allanson) for allowing me access to an online screener of their Horror/Comedy film, “Hens Night”. Hens Night sees bride to be, Jess (played by Allanson) and her girlfriends out to paint the town red one last time before her big day. A series of unexpected twists and turns over the course of the evening leaves Jess and her besties fighting for their lives come the end of the night. The film also stars Edith Landreville, Candice Lidstone, Emily Shanley, Fiona Noakes, Sam Awwad and Mike Tarp.
I hadn’t heard anything about Hens Night so I was fortunate enough to have Kristian reach out and share this feature-length debut film with me. The film opens at an engagement party where we’re introduced to the soon to be married couple, Jess and Tom (played by Mike Tarp) as well as a handful of the couples friends, namely socially awkward outcast, Laura (Edith Landreville). Allanson’s writing subtly sets events in motion without you necessarily realizing the wheels have begun turning. Jennifer does so by establishing a layer of clear-cut jealousy while tapping into that competitive nature frequent among girls. Hens Night is one of the first independent films in recent times to successfully break conventional stereotypes with its male characters. Granted, they’re in short supply and certainly not front and centre at any point throughout the film, but still. I was surprised to see a level-headed Tom actually acting his age and earning some respect from those around him in the process. There’s a stylish credit sequence intercut with Jess and her best friend, Kim (Lidstone) preparing for the big night. Kudos goes to the sound mixers for recording matching foley and consistent dialogue audio. Chris Chitaroni’s camera work is really quite polished and the film looks as if it may have been shot in 4k. The framing is neat, there’s a number of gentle zooming techniques and a nice long tracking shot via dolly as the girls make their way toward Laura’s house. Most every shot is softly but superbly lit and Lariviere’s editing skill is on display with quick cuts during the dare game sequence and even the shots leading up to the girls entering the second bar.
The performances are all fairly consistent and more than serviceable for a film of this nature. Jennifer and Edith share an equal most amount of screen time in Hens Night, and the awkward beats created by the two with their sense of timing is where the films is its strongest. Lidstone’s, Kim presents as the free spirit of the group but certainly remains a source of the friction between Jess and Laura, whether it be intentional or not. Ever since the girls were young, Laura’s always been the odd one out. She tries a little to hard to be accepted by the group, and in turn, ends up coming across as a little desperate. Rounding out the handful are Holly and Sarah (played by Shanley and Noakes respectively) who each have their moment to shine, one doing so by virtue of drinking anytime someone mentions a moment from her wedding, and the other partakes in a girl on girl lap dance. The film does contain some nudity, although it feels a little out-of-place in a scene that involves both Jess and Laura standing in front of separate mirrors analyzing themselves for whatever reason (not that I’m complaining). There’s an early showing of practical blood and then in the climax of the film there’s a couple of memorable kills as well. One involves a neck being slashed and the other is the highlight of the film, a graphic and bloody head smashing.
I’m not sure exactly what the budget was for Hens Night, but according to Kristian it was no great sum of money and the film was done more as a labor of love than anything else (as most independent films are). With budgetary constraints come technical faults and limitations in terms of what you can commit to screen. While most of the lighting looks great, I think there’s too much of a reliance on pinks and total fluorescent backdrops, such as the scene where Kim and Roger (Awwad) are talking in the bar. Kevin Daoust’s score doesn’t really give the film much life and those warping bass tones drone away in the back of the mix for what feels like an eternity. There’s a couple of momentary focus issues in the final act and the editing where Lidstone rolls down the grassy bank is haphazardly conceived. A couple of Allanson’s script specifics weren’t necessarily to my liking either (but it’s all personal opinion). When it comes to dialogue and language, I feel older than my 31-year-old tag might suggest. Hens Night’s got some unnecessarily forced profanity, and while I understand that these characters are young adults, I guess I just can’t relate. The film has a couple of continuity related issues too. For some unknown reason there’s a secondary character (I believe it was Tom’s father) who speaks with a British accent in the few brief lines he has (I guess he could have relocated, maybe?). During the final act someone is struck with a knife to the stomach and you can clearly see that the prop has been positioned on the side of the actresses body and it looks rather hokey. Perhaps a retractable prop would have been a sufficient substitute.
It would have been nice to see the girls ask the question of their host regarding the lack of preparation to the house, given what she claims is going to take place the very next day. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything that could’ve been done to stop the situation escalating, but Jennifer would’ve covered her bases in terms of writing the most realistic reactions to said circumstance. There’s a couple of flashback scenes throughout the film, or more accurately scenes that play out-of-order. The first of the two works better because there’s an element of surprise with another character, sadly the same can’t be said about the latter, which relates to the death of a character that would’ve been better presented in the linear timeline. The two key things that quelled my enjoyment of Hens Night are its sluggish pacing and the depiction of the Laura character (through not fault of Edith’s). Despite the copious amount of girl talk, Hens Night still feels more like a horror film than it does a comedy, and that’s a problem when for 60 minutes of an 85 minute running time, there’s no physical action, zero, nada. The bulk of the film is literally spent getting to a place, both physically and mentally, where everything can conveniently come to a head in a controlled environment, and frankly I found myself losing interest. Combine that slow treading with child like behaviour from Laura, manifesting itself in squeaky outpourings with a consistently high-pitched Canadian inflection, and it ends up a more challenging watch than it should be. I think Edith does a fine job with the material but perhaps the better option would’ve been a slightly more reserved approach to the idiosyncracies of that character.
Hens Night feels like a mix of Danielle Harris’s “Among Friends”, meets the more recent comedy “Rough Night”. It’s actress, Jennifer Allanson’s first feature-length script and despite the fact that it’s an uneven one, I still liked certain elements. I enjoyed that she made the dynamics of the lead trio apparent from the very start, and furthemore, went against the grain in writing a non-conventional arc for Tom, the semi-leading male. I think the credit sequence is fun, the cinematography looks polished and the audio levels are clean. The characters are all very different, the performances are even and when the action does present itself, it comes in a fairly bloody an entertaining fashion. On the downside, some of the bright backgrounds are a little much at times, the warping bass drags on, and the editing despite some flashy moments, comes up short (or long as is the case here). The writing and its structure isn’t quite strong enough and there’s a few continuity hiccups along the way. I can usually swallow those shortcomings if the film delivers on the goods, but unfortunately Allanson and Co just take a little too long getting to the good stuff and that ultimately hurts the film, so to the fact that I couldn’t get into Landreville’s character. That being said, this is a first venture and I’m looking forward to seeing what Rivermen Productions come up with next. You can check out the trailer for Hens Night below! The film is now available on VOD, YouTube and Amazon Video if you want to check it out.
My rating for “Hens Night” is 4.5/10