Before We Vanish by Steven Warner Film

Porno | Keola Racela

The unfortunate irony of Porno is that it fails to leave its audience satisfied.


If you are naming your new indie horror flick Porno, you had better make damn sure you deliver on the grindhouse expectations that undoubtedly live within the minds of its target audience. Unfortunately, Porno is the exact opposite of down-and-dirty, a cynical attempt at latching onto the current craze of ‘90s nostalgia. The irony here is that the early ‘90s are often thought of as the nadir for the horror genre; the fact that this film truly feels like it came out of that shitshow era is both its greatest strength and weakness. A small-town movie theater run by a Christian fundamentalist is actually the former home of a porn theater, a fact soon discovered by the five-person teenage crew that makes up its staff. Upon coming across an old film print and screening it after hours, our protagonists unwittingly let loose a beautiful and deadly succubus who is hellbent on using the teens’ budding sexuality against them to capture their horny souls. So far, so good.

But the execution here is severely lacking, as first-time feature director Keola Racela and writers Matt Black and Laurence Vannicelli are unable to settle on a consistent tone. With its ample sex and nudity, it clearly wants to deliver the racy goods promised by that title. But it also wants to be campy, with a sense of humor that seems borrowed from lesser episodes of Stranger Things. It then strives for social commentary, as it dives headfirst into religious hypocrisy, conversion therapy, and sexual assault. Of course, this is all at odds with a scene later in the film that attempts gory mayhem a la Evil Dead when a character’s testicles literally explode, and another has to put a tourniquet on his dick, all shown in graphic detail. It doesn’t help that most of the film’s runtime consists of the kids walking down the same hallways over and over, flashlights in hand, investigating strange noises. Had this narrative mode been handled with a modicum of tension or artistry, perhaps all would be forgiven. But Porno is so stupid that it doesn’t even understand that if there is one thing the titular genre knows how to accomplish, it is leaving its audience members satisfied. This is nothing but a lesson in blue balls. Steven Warner


Published as part of May 2020’s Before We Vanish.

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