Stag Night (2008)

I’m a sucker for creepy stories. Myths, legends, or plain old fiction – bring it on. It’s an affinity I share with the horror genre, which loves to borrow old campfire stories and put them up on the silver screen. The legend of Sawney Bean and his family of marauding cannibals has inspired its share of horror films over the years. Stag Night is the latest in the series.

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The premise is simple: a bachelor party is kicked out of a club and board the subway in search of more alcohol-fueled debauchery. On the train, they run into two of the strippers from the very club they just vacated. Drunken flirting/harassment of the two women ensures. One plays along. The other gets her mace out.

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In the confusion, the group accidentally gets off at the wrong station, and finds themselves trapped on a deserted subway station with a group of marauding cannibals wielding homemade weapons. Bloodshed and your average slasher plot ensue.

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The acting is decent, though the characters aren’t terribly interesting, and there were several beautiful shots of rain falling down storm grates. Other than that, the sound design was flat out terrible, the lighting didn’t always make sense, and someone on the crew had an unhealthy love of using a hand-held camera. The picture is shaky and confusing, and not all that pleasant to look at. The costume designs were decent, but didn’t reveal anything new about the characters. This is a problem when you introduce villains without a backstory or even a clear set of motives. The villains appear to have something a family dynamic, and possibly work as protectors of the homeless population who also live in the tunnels – at any rate, the cannibals seem to leave the homeless characters alone and are implied in a few scenes to actually be protecting them from the outside world. Stag Night isn’t clear on that point.

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Therein lies the problem. We know why our heroes are stuck down in the tunnels. Sadly, their motivations and character arcs just aren’t interesting enough to base a whole movie on. There aren’t enough emotional stakes in play to make the audience care whether or not these people die. Furthermore, none of the characters are especially likable. The men seem more offended by the fact that they were maced than considering that one of their number was harassing a woman who clearly – and loudly – warned him to back off first.

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For the record, the film treats this as an overreaction.

To which I say: are you fucking kidding?

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I really can’t believe this needs to be said, but apparently it does. Women, whether or not they be strippers, owe men neither their time nor their politeness. My god. Of course she fucking maced him.

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None of the women in this film fare well. There is a scene of sexual assault. It’s not as gratuitous as it could have been, which is the only positive thing that can be said about it. Stag Night might not actively dislike women, but it doesn’t think highly of them one either.

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Getting back to the legend of Sawney Bean and his family, most of these legends actually serve a social purpose – they function as morality tales, and occasionally nationalistic propaganda. It’s unclear if Sawney Bean was a real person and if he was, if he committed the crimes that history has attributed to him. One explanation was that the story originated as a penny dreadful novel, and was then adapted as anti-Scottish propaganda by the British – who then spread the story far and wide. Horror stories are not told in a vacuum. They have always served a social purpose.

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So, what story is Stag Night telling underneath its slasher underpinnings?

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That’s hard to say. We don’t know why the cannibals are the way that they are. If they are truly killing people out of necessity – as the film seems to suggest – then they’re bad at their jobs. The scenes of butchery show wanton destruction and blood – no attempt is made to preserve the meat, to put it bluntly. And if the villains are killing people for funsies, then why would the homeless people living in the tunnels help them?

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Who knows? Stag Night doesn’t say one way or another. In the absence of motives for the villains, it reveals a deep-seated anxiety about poverty and the uncleanliness of dark, damp places. It’s worth noting that the poor characters – the villains and the two strippers – have the worst luck out of the entire cast. Whatever their motivations, Stag Night has nothing kind to say about people who poverty has driven to desperate measures. We need to realize this. Horror films might be seen as low-brow fare, but they tell stories just like any other film. And these stories aren’t without consequences.

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