Sick for Toys Movie Review
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Released by Freestyle Digital Media
Directed by David Del Rio
Written by James Andrew Oster and Justin Xavier
2018, 90 minutes, Not Rated
Released on September 4th, 2018
Camille Montgomery as Emilia
Jon Paul Burkhart as Edward
Justin Xavier as Jason
David Gunning as Roy
Melanie Thompson as Kate
Paul T. Taylor as Uncle
Katherine Del Rio as Samantha
Morgana Shaw as Detective Peele
Christmas is a tricky time of year- happy for some, depressing for others. It’s a time of year that we are supposed to be able to put aside our differences and visit with family in the safety and comfort of those we love. It’s also one hell of a time for toys, which is something that we never outgrow. As we age, the toys get larger, more expensive, and more interactive…but they are still that artificial happiness that we wait all year for.
Sick for Toys is the first feature film for director David Del Rio (who was also a longtime star on Nickelodeon’s The Troop). Equal parts psychological case study and visceral kidnapping thriller, it tells the disturbing story of Emilia (Camille Montgomery, MTV’s Sweet/Vicious) and her brother, Edward (Jon Paul Burkhart, Netflix’s GLOW). Sweet, childlike Emilia just loves Christmas. Every year nerdy lab geek Edward gets her a special Christmas present to play with until it breaks. This year that present is Jason (Justin Xavier, the film’s writer and Bradley Cooper lookalike). Emilia and Edward don’t have your normal, healthy sibling relationship – Edward secures a yearly present for Emilia and keeps him drugged and “performing” until the toy breaks. The two have nothing in their lives but each other and a shared dark past. Their rules are broken when Emilia is contacted by Jason’s best friend, Roy (David Gunning, The Bitter Bartender), who is trying to find him for Jason’s girlfriend, Kate (Melanie Thompson, Formation of a Natural Pearl). Emilia wants a second toy, and Roy fits the bill. She doesn’t clear this with her brother, and psychological anarchy soon follows.
From the restrained yet unapologetic opening scene to the upside-down ending, Sick for Toys sticks to its theme of playing by the rules and showing the drastic consequences of breaking them. Christmas is a wonderfully creepy backdrop for this. The holidays are all about traditions passed through generations and rules on how those traditions are carried out. These are moments to be savored in a certain way.
Emilia and Edward are a powerful on-screen pairing. Emilia screams childishly crazy from the word go, but Camille Montgomery plays it with just enough restraint to let you see the confused monster that lies underneath the sexy and vulnerable exterior. Edward is her polar opposite; he’s controlling, manipulative, and wickedly intelligent. He plays his sister like a marionette because she is his ultimate weakness. Jon Paul Burkhart performs with gusto as the world’s most clearly dangerous brainiac, and still there is that restraint.
And restraint is the key word here. The lid is kept on everything (almost frustratingly so) for the first half of the film. The tension simply builds to a minor crescendo in one of the oddest and most well-shot dinner sequences ever committed to film. The visual drug effects combined with the cinematic simplicity of it quite fun. Once that lid comes off, however, it goes off the rails for the siblings with near shocking speed. The cameo by Paul T. Taylor (Pinhead in the new Hellraiser: Judgement) as the predatory Uncle will turn your stomach and may trigger some folks.
At its core, Sick for Toys is a tale of damaged people and the ways they cope with the horrors of their childhood taken to the extreme. It’s exceptionally creepy, sexual, vaguely incestuous, and heartbreaking. It doesn’t flinch at all, but it doesn’t take a sleazy, torture-porn style to get the message across. That is surprising deftness for a first-time director. On the occasions that gore is called for, the same deftness of “damn that’s nasty, but not too nasty” is utilized. There’s a clear understanding that it doesn’t always have to be over the top. Still, you won’t mistake it for anything except a horror/thriller (a genre blend that can be problematic even in experienced hands).