2014’s The Hornet’s Sting and the Hell it’s Caused ended with the doors wide open for a possible continuation, but this is not it. Instead, ridiculously-prolific underground filmmaker Dustin Mills decided to write a meta sequel in which the first film exists as just that: a film.  Had it been a straight sequel, we likely would’ve gotten a more different storyline than the first (considering how it ended). As it stands the basic structure is fairly similar, but with new characters.

Here we have Rose (Roni Jonah), a camgirl and photographer who employs models for online shows. She’s also a huge fan of the original film and is now emulating the M.O. of its main antagonist, which means that she lures the unfortunates who respond to her ads to their death.

The latest of these, and our main protagonist, is Finley (J. Ania Lupa), who is down on her luck and is easily seduced by the promise of good money for sex videos. Until Rose exposes her true intentions to eventually kill her on camera for the enjoyment of her paying online customers. There will be much abuse until that happens.

The first part of the film takes its time in showing the initial meetings between Rose and Finley, and these scenes are terrific as Rose charismatically and professionally establishes a relationship of trust with Finley, a somewhat shy girl for whom this is new territory. Rose is so good with her that we can’t help but completely empathize with Finley and understand how easily she gains confidence. As played by Jonah, there isn’t a hint of menace or otherwise out-of-place behavior coming from her. She’s a total pro at what she does and comes across as someone who’s been doing it enough to be really good at it and how to deal with her models. She could make anybody with some hesitation at ease for the work at hand. There is a great dynamic between the two, with the extremely confident and personable Rose motivating the unassertive and seemingly introverted Finley.

Speaking of which, J. Ania Lupa is the real standout here. Her performance is authentic, making her character completely believable and effortlessly making her empathetic and likable. Hers is a fully-realized character with a perfectly-realized personality, that doesn’t solely depend on what information we learn from her but comes from the performance itself. I personally thought that Lupa’s performance was the best and most memorable thing about the film, which definitely elevated the level of interest one will have for a story when there is a protagonist which we become genuinely attached to. I’ve seen enough films and worked on my fair share to have noticed that this kind of charismatic presence doesn’t happen most of the time. Add to that the uncomfortable (to say the least) situations Finley finds herself going through and the near-constant nudity the role required and that makes it even more notable.

The film’s subject matter, like the first, delves toward ‘’torture porn’’ category but the emphasis is more on psychological and emotional abuse than all-out gore or graphic violence. There are montages of Rose’s previous ill-fated victims (including an all-too-brief cameo by Mills regular Erin R. Ryan) but they also stay away from slasher-type violence. As I mentioned before, it follows the structure of its predecessor very closely, but this *is * a sequel so it’s to be expected that things would stay similar. The dynamic between the captor and captive is quite different this time around, mostly due to the relationship established in the first act and the different personalities the characters have this time around. Considering the conclusion, the doors are once again open for a possible sequel, but like the first film. In fact, considering how the first basically set itself up to be continued, there could theoretically be two different continuities (one fictional, one ‘’real’’) if Mills wanted to pursue them.

As far as underground DIY projects go, there is a lot of care evident here. Not surprisingly coming from Mills, whose work I’ve been following and enjoying for a few years now. This is essentially a two-person show taking place in one location, a smart concept when you have no money (I should know, I’ve done it a couple of time. Use what you have) and executed well. Mills does all his shooting and editing himself so he comes up with some pretty effective aesthetics on a (no) budget. This type of stuff never ceases to amaze me, as it’s all a labor of passion.

His next project is slated to be the less-serious Slaughterhouse Slumber Party, which will feature Lupa, Jonah, and Ryan. Count me in.

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