Written by: Matt Patti | March 7th, 2022
Heckle (Martyn Pick, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Director Martyn Pick’s Heckle begins with a definition: “heckle (verb): interrupt (a public speaker) with derisive or aggressive comments or abuse.” Pick’s film involves the repetitive use of this word, and centers around a heckler at a comedy event who torments a comedian long after the show has ended. Billed as a horror-comedy, the film is unfortunately neither scary nor funny, but does have an intriguing conclusion that can’t quite make up for the lackluster majority of the film.
In Heckle, comedian Joe Johnson (Guy Combes) is set to star in an upcoming film about the late Ray Kelly (Steve Guttenberg, Lez Bomb), a legendary comedian who was gunned down in his home over a decade prior to this film’s events. Joe is performing a stand-up routine in front of a large audience one night when someone in the crowd yells at him, interrupting the act. Joe reacts by burying the heckler under a boatload of personal attacks and offensive jokes. The heckler goes quiet, and Joe thinks he has won the night, but soon realizes in the coming days that there was no victory. After receiving threatening phone calls, Joe finds himself and his friends being stalked by the mysterious heckler.
The premise of Heckle seemed interesting and unique to me when reading about it, and thus I decided to check it out. Sadly, the intrigue and the meat of the plot only appears in Act Three, while the rest of the film follows cliché after cliché in a dull, forgettable attempt at a thriller. The setup of the main conflict is handled very poorly through a recollection of a threatening phone call (rather than actually seeing it play out). From there, the film continues downhill until the final act. Joe Johnson is a mediocre main character that the audience can somewhat cling to, and Combes provides a passable performance, but the secondary characters around him are not compelling at all. The heckler, especially, is very disappointing and not intimidating at all. His phone calls and vague threats to Johnson are laughable and some of the worst vocalizations of dialogue that I’ve ever heard in a film. The best performance belongs to Guttenberg as Ray Kelly, but unfortunately all of his scenes are flashbacks.
Technically, the film is quite unimpressive. Heckle is worn down by poor sound design, bad audio mixing, and very messy editing. All kill scenes are quick, boring, and cut away from far too quickly (as if trying to hide some kind of imperfection or constraints). The chase scenes and killing scenes are also very quiet and lack vital Foley sound effects, which I found quite strange and lazy on the filmmakers’ part. In terms of sound design, they do include a specific choice of sound for the killer whenever he is stalking someone, but it is way too reminiscent of the Friday the 13th franchise’s “ki ki, ma ma” and feels at times like downright plagiarism.
The film’s conclusion does offer a rare bright spot and instantly makes the film much more riveting. A twist and an additional reveal that broadens the plot and makes the viewer question some previous events that took place pushes the plain, conventional story to a whole other level. Unfortunately, though, it is too little too late at that point, and the riveting third act can’t quite make up for the sins of the other two. Even in that third act, there are still some issues that carry over from the previous two that prevent it from being even better. In the end, Heckle is an underwhelming try at a unique thriller that has its ending in a good place, but can’t navigate there effectively enough to warrant the trip.