There's something insufferable about paintball. It's a relatively fun game to play, but it comes surrounded by a fug of performative masculinity. Blokes of a certain vintage – they can't understand why footballers are still taking the knee or why we can't sing Fairytale of New York anymore – love to run around with guns causing each other pain within a sanctioned environment. Low-budget horror Paintball Massacre plays heavily on this tension, with a side order of serial murder.
The setting is a school reunion, in which a group of people who have barely spoken in more than a decade are thrust together for a night of boozing, followed by a trip to a secluded Dorset quarry to face off against another team. Reluctantly along for the ride is former chess club star Jess (Cheryl Burniston), who is engaged to the late drop-out Simon – remembered by many as the most popular lad in their class. After a handful of games, the opposition team are discovered dead, having suffered a violent bloodbath. Soon, the killer is targeting the reunion as well – and it's clear he has a grudge to bear.
Once the blood starts flowing, Paintball Massacre is quite a watchable horror movie – albeit one with a tiny budget which leaves the visual effects feeling more than a little unconvincing. The mystery surrounding the killings has a handful of intriguing wrinkles, even if one of the central ideas is liberally pilfered from a variety of far more interesting stories. Elements of the screenplay are over-written to the point of parody – no school bully has ever gone to the extremes described by these reminiscing classmates – and this stretches credibility to breaking point.
By the time the story's gears begin to click into action, though, tedium has already set in. The first act, set on the boozy night before the paintballs fly, is heavy on leaden banter between a series of actors who lack the dramatic or comedic chops to make the material work. With that said, Burniston is solid enough in the lead role and Aoife Smyth's deadpan shtick makes her the standout – like Alice Lowe with a spliff permanently hanging out of her mouth. Her habit of explaining major life events with Fast and Furious parallels is the movie's best running gag.
Paintball Massacre often seems trapped in an awkward horror-comedy hinterland, without any real desire to either pick a lane or commit to the genre hybridisation. The presence of broad comedy performers – Katy Brand has a cameo – seems to tip the hat towards laughs, but the script is rather short on wit. Natasha Killip has one of the most interesting roles on paper – as a popular girl turned millennial celebrity – but there's little in Chris Regan's screenplay for her to do beyond hurling swear words indiscriminately. A Brexit joke lands with a particularly deafening clunk.
There's some great ingredients to director Darren Berry's film, but the execution simply doesn't come together. The acting falls short, the script leaves a lot to be desired and some of the best moments fail to land as a result of the limitations of its tiny budget. That's not to mention the difficulty of keeping track of so many central cast members, whose inter-personal relationships and career paths are all important to following the events of the movie. Much like a day at the paintball, it leaves you bruised and muddy without much real fun to show for it.
Dir: Darren Berry
Scr: Chris Regan
Prd: Brendan Carr, Joe Hallett
DOP: Ola Mesmer
Music: Patrick Gill
Run time: 92 minutes
Paintball Massacre is available on digital download and DVD in the USA now, with a UK release planned for 2021.