It seems to be obvious where writer-director Eric Pennycoff’s film is going. In the tradition of Boudu Sauve des Eaux and Viridiana, a would-be charitable act leads to a nightmare of comic degradation — but then The Leech takes a few further steps into weirdness and becomes a lot less predictable and more interesting. Father David (Graham Skipper), pastor in a vast church with a tiny and shrinking congregation, is guilt-tripped in the run-up to Christmas into helping obvious foul-up Terry (Jeremy Gardner), whom he finds asleep on one of the pews.
First, David offers to let Terry sit in his car to wait for a ride that never comes … then to give him a lift home, only to find he’s been thrown out of it … then shelter in his own large, inherited house … then to let in Terry’s girlfriend Lexi (Taylor Zaudtke), whom David believes is pregnant and contemplating an abortion he can persuade her not to have … then to relax rules he has about smoking, loud music, drinking, carousing and general sin in the house … then, when he finally feels it’s all become too much, David tries to transform into something closer to a warrior for Christ and conflict escalates, but only for everyone’s spiritual good. Gardner and Skipper, familiar presences in indie horror, are excellent – Gardner’s Terry is genial, overbearing, faux-redneck, manipulative and just a tiny bit Satanic … while Skipper’s burly, bearded David is uncomfortable in his own skin (and collar), lives in the shadows of an empty church and home (dominated by a hideous portrait of his dead mother), struggles to write sermons about abortion and other issues which will be heard by few, and tries to be good out of a deep conviction that he isn’t.
Head games are played, including a booze-and-drugged-up version of ‘never have I ever …’ which gets out of hand, though perhaps not as much as Terry wants David to think – and there are repeated instances of that excruciating, now horribly familiar business where someone does or says something unforgivably awful but reacts when called on it with aggrieved hurt that anyone would mistake their good intentions so badly. It’s an intimate, claustrophobic piece – the only other significant character is Rigo (Rigo Garay), a previous rescue case who sees through the new leeches but also starts to suspect that David gets more out of his charitable efforts than the recipients do.