If the measure of effectiveness in a horror or thriller movie is making my skin crawl, Tearsucker nails it. The story centers around absolute human monster, Tom, who can only feel joy while ingesting the tears of others, or at least the tears of women. Tom haunts online self-help message boards and support groups looking for vulnerable women. Once he picks a target, he does a deep dive into their online presence in order to discover how best to make them cry–often times portraying himself as a nice guy who has also been through trauma himself. It’s hard to imagine a more sinister way to go about dating. And so we watch as Tom sits, sweating, under a single light-bulb seeking the next victim on his laptop, which is where he finds Lilly.
Lilly is healing from a very abusive relationship. She works from home and spends much of her time alone. Her only real support system is her best friend Deb who urges her to get back out into the world. Deb suggests she work out some of her feelings by getting back into her vlog and talking about her journey. The vulnerable post (fueled by late night wine) gets her the best numbers she’s ever had–and catches the attention of Tom. I imagine we are supposed to understand that her desperation for connection makes it easy for her to ignore Tom’s many bright red flags, but that particular writing decision ultimately undermines Lilly as a strong protagonist.
Lead actor Allison Walter does a great job with what she is given as Lilly. She perfectly captures the broken strength needed for the character. Sam Brittan, who is also the writer of this film, does an equally great job with Tom. A lot of the creepiness in this story comes from Brittan’s ability to switch from a troubled guy you feel kind of bad for to an absolutely disgusting predator within the blink of an eye. The film rests almost entirely on these two characters, so having the right talent in the roles is critical.
Though this is not something I say often, I do believe Tearsucker could have been a bit longer. By the time we get into the relationship between Lilly and Tom, everything feels slightly rushed and it’s difficult to believe she would let things escalate at the pace in which they do given her recent past. Of course, bad decisions are key to almost any good horror movie, but the pace at which Lilly moves into clearly dangerous situations gives the film a rather misogynistic and victim blaming tone that I certainly do not believe was the intent. If we were given a little more time to see Tom manipulating Lilly’s emotions, the ultimate climax might have felt more inline with what we know about Lilly.
Where Tearsucker really excels is in how repulsive Tom’s actions are. There is so much face licking, sucking tears out of handkerchiefs and hand towels, and up close shots of Tom’s mouth, thirsty for more tears. Director Stephen Vanderpool packs the run time with uncomfortable close ups and unsettling stalker-like spycam angles. Like it or not, the viewer becomes completely immersed in the world. There isn’t an abundance of gore or even outright violence, but when the team makes an effort to creep you out, it’s incredibly effective.
Tearsucker had it’s World Premiere at the 2023 Chattanooga Film Festival