We can all agree that the pandemic sucked. In 2020, Michael J Ahern, Christopher Dalphe, and Brandon Perras-Sanchez premiered their relentlessly funny and shockingly gory debut feature, Death Drop Gorgeous. The movie was a hit at Salem Horror Fest that year, but almost all the film’s praise and filmmaker congratulations wound up online as the festival went virtual during the height of Covid-19. While I’m overwhelmingly confident everyone involved was thankful for the outpouring of support, it pales in comparison to the immense, electric atmosphere and positive reception for directors Ahern, Perras-Sanchez, and Ryan Miller’s latest film, Saint Drogo, had at last week’s world premiere.
Known collectively as Monster Makeup, which also includes Wayne Gonsalves and Kevin Bowden, the creators revealed very little about Saint Drogo’s premise prior to release. Two teaser trailers can be found online, but they only produce a magnetizing curiosity for whatever story your brain can logically muster to fill in the what-the-f*ckery of it all. Needless to say, they are enigmatically intriguing.
Saint Drogo concerns gay couple, Caleb (Perras-Sanchez) and Adrian (Ahern), who are on the outs with each other, though neither wants to admit it. Facing away from each other in bed, staring at the ceiling, their distance apart seems greater than the inches physically separating them. When Caleb receives a package from his ex, Isaac (Tradd Sanderson), who has decided to stay in Provincetown through the offseason, it sparks a strange, shared dream between the couple that pushes Caleb down a path of concern for his old beau. Feeling pressured by his friends for not visiting P-Town in the summer and guilty about his attraction to his co-worker, Adrian gives in to Caleb’s request to visit Provincetown for a weekend away. Once there, Caleb starts his search for Isaac, and the couple enters thruple territory when a local man Eric (Matthew Pidge), decides to help them. Eric’s help seems invaluable initially, but a hallucination causes Caleb to question Eric’s intentions as he and Adrian begin getting closer. As Caleb’s search for Isaac continues, his hallucinations worsen, causing him to stumble upon a dangerous cabal operating just beneath Provincetown’s surface.
Paranoia plays an intriguing part in Saint Drogo, unshakably rendered through dependency issues between Caleb and Adrian’s relationship. Caleb is an artist with a free spirit, meaning he has some hang-ups committing so quickly. Caleb’s refusal of Adrian’s proposal says a lot about the two different personality types continuing their relationship. Adrian seems to have a desire to commit fast and completely, which seems pressed upon him by his friends as well. As they get to Provincetown, the level of effort Caleb devotes to his search for Isaac becomes contentious, making Adrian feel cut off from Caleb. Eric’s charismatic allure toward community parties begins to sound more appealing.
Admittedly, I was taken aback by the filmmakers’ complete subgenre shift. A general expectation of the similar B-movie milieu in the neon-flaring horror-comedy vein of Death Drop Gorgeous. This is only Monster Makeup’s sophomore feature, after all. Still, as Ahern, Perras-Sanchez, and Miller wander into folktale territory with Saint Drogo, they try their hand at horror with a more patient and serious tone. Comedic moments exist within Saint Drogo but aren’t as constant as those catty witticisms or original songs from their previous film. Essentially, comparing Death Drop Gorgeous to Saint Drogo is like comparing apples and oranges, though a few easter egg references, like a tattoo and a recurring character, provide a link to the films in the Monster Makeup universe.
Though Saint Drogo may have been different from what I was expecting, it didn’t stop it from being an effectual gut punch of forewarned consequence. Inspired by ’70s horror films like The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now, and Rosemary’s Baby, Saint Drogo is a similar quest for answers in a community-first culture, where individuality can often feel excommunicative.
In a recent interview I did with Ahern and Perras-Sanchez, Perras-Sanchez said,
There’s co-dependency on Gay culture too as kind of this ‘safety-in-numbers’ thing where you’re kind of losing yourself along the way, and this relationship is like a microcosm of that as well. So there are themes of that. Themes of gentrification of Queer spaces, which is happening not just in P-Town but in any kind of prominent Queer portion of major cities. And also a sort of mental gentrification and elitism that we find in mainstream Gay culture that is, for some reason, celebrated. I think we’ve kind of been destroying ourselves because of these kinds of phenomenons happening.
Further pushing the boundaries between expectation and reality is the intertwined idea of the titular Catholic Saint the film derives its name. The patron saint of coffee, the “unsightly,” the insane, the deaf, the stupid, and those suffering from afflictions like hernias and gallstones seem like he should be better well-known. The film blends paganism and Catholicism with Lovecraft and Kubrick and flips what we know about what praying to a saint entails.
With the thematic and tonal components of Saint Drogo’s script in place, Ahern, Perras-Sanchez, and Miler set up an accompanying visual component more advanced than anything seen in their debut. The astonishing cinematography shows that Monster Makeup’s crew have upped their game. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous landscapes and locations are abundantly on display in the film, elevating the directors far beyond their B-movie horror roots, and, when compounded with Joe Castro’s practical makeup effects work and the ominous Angelo Badalamenti reminiscent score flares, it begins to produce the hallucinatory experience that Caleb is experiencing. The result is a breathtaking rabbit-hole thriller filled with gory effects, startling scares, and nail-biting tension. It’s a head trip you’ll be glad you took.
Saint Drogo premiered at Salem Horror Fest on Friday, April 28. The film is currently traveling the festival circuit.