When Tatia Pilieva’s viral “First Kiss” video featuring 20 so-called “strangers” locking lips for the first time was called out as not much more than carefully casted fashion advert, the parodies and spinoffs quickly followed. Vice filmed “20 strangers who aren’t models of any description to stick their stiff British upper lips together for £20 (about $33) a pop,” while Wifey.TV shot a similar approach with totally random plain folk in New York who puckered up for free! (Suckers!)
But filmmaker Max Landis decided to give the experiment an interesting spin: Pair off 40 of his friends and acquaintances, put them in front of a camera, and then tell them to slap each other in the face.
You read that right. In. The. Face.
“This is not a parody [of ‘First Kiss’],” explained Landis in a behind-the-scenes video about his project. “It’s sort of an experiment. The idea that if you put two people in front of cameras, refuse to interact with them, there’s nowhere for them to hide. They’re directing each other.”
For “The Slap,” Landis invited a pool of his friends and acquaintances to participate — some were couples, some were friends, some were totally random strangers, and one was Haley Joel Osment from “The Sixth Sense.” He then paired them off and asked them to slap each other in the face.
“Violence minus aggression is intimacy,” he reasoned. “It’s the idea of trusting someone to hit you and it being a social interaction.”
“Everything that happens will be determined between you on camera,” Landis tells a pair as the film begins. Two dudes introduce themselves. “You want to go first?” one asks — and with a second of hesitation, the first slap is delivered.
“The Slap” is approximately four cringe-worthy minutes. For some reason it feels wrong, but is still compelling to watch. It’s different than ogling sexy “strangers” getting it on. It’s a different type of behind-closed-doors scenario. And it’s hard to look away.
“I’m so excited to hit someone,” says a pretty woman named Chloe who can barely suppress her giddiness as she introduces herself to Osment.
There are all kinds of slaps. Giggly slaps, surprise slaps, two-handed slaps, slamdunk slaps, butt slaps, the kind of slaps you wind your forearm all the way back for. Even Landis gets slapped. It’s violent, for sure. But Landis defends his project, saying the purpose goes beyond the surface to gauge levels of intimacy and trust between humans. He wrote, “What does trust have more to do with, logic or fun? How much fun is it to trust someone, versus how logical it is to trust them, to hit you in the face and be hit by you in the face?”
Further reasoning, “If you take the destructive component out of violence, it actually ends up being kind of cute and intimate — a slap mitigated by permission is a hug.”