Director: Devereux Milburn
Starring: Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley, Jamie Bradley, Stephen D'Ambrose
Run Time: 107mins
Devereux Milburn’s debut feature is a familiar beast in many ways. Sitting comfortably, as it does, in the cannibalistic backwoods horror sub-genre as well as clearly owing a major debt to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Initially, it even has a similar feverish sunbaked look to it. However, for all the familiar trapping, this isn’t your typical backwood horror. Something that is both a plus and minus too proceedings.
That this is a weirder take on well-trodden ground is established quickly in the pre-credit sequence which races from a wacko religious monologue to an ominous veiled woman at a funeral to a hunter making a nasty discovery and then to our main protagonists Rylie (Malin Barr) and Sam (Sawyer Spielberg). The former of whom is watching a quirky informational video on wheat and the latter reading lines for an upcoming audition. Much of this is inter-cut together to surreal and dizzying effect. Between the vintage visuals and the use of split screen, there is also a decidedly 70s feel to the movie.
This sequence makes for an intriguing opening, but it also suggests a more interesting and possibly more fun movie than we ultimately get. As for all there is the odd bit of striking imagery or effective scare or moment of absurdist humour, the film never really coalesces. Seemingly unsure of precisely what tone it wants to take or what it is trying to say.
Could it be something about women being ignored? Possibly as Rylie seems to be the one of the pair who immediately realises there is something not write about the women, Karen (Barbara Kingsley), whose house they stumble across after their car breaks down and whom offers seemingly kind hospitality while Sam remains stubbornly oblivious. Could it be to do with a kind of twisted religious oppression? Again it is possible as Kingsley spouts off her own deranged religious philosophy, but it’s not really delved into much. Maybe it is just trying to tell us don’t accept meals from stranger ala Hansel and Gretel who knows.
Then again, maybe it is none of that, and it is not really about anything. Maybe you are just supposed to be sucked into its dark surrealism and off-kilter images. All of which would be fine if the images were more captivating or the atmosphere felt more thick with dread. But it doesn’t. Instead, for every arresting visual or genuinely creepy moment we get long sections of monotony which feel free of any real tension.
Compounding matter is most of the characters are not that interesting. Particularly our protagonists as Sam and Rylie seem like a pair of gender stereotypes. He is sullen, uncommunicative and desperate to break his enforced cholesterol controlled diet. She is nagging, uptight and uber health conscious. If they were slasher victims, it would be fine, but these are supposed to be the characters we are rooting for. Also, the opening act spends way too much time focusing on the couple annoyingly bickering, making them even more off-putting.
The exception is the character of Karen. As Kingsley puts in a committedly deranged performance that is downright creepy even when the character is putting on her sweet little old lady act. She is undoubtedly the highlight of the film.
Not that she is the only highlight though, as there is some good stuff in here. As mentioned, the opening is an oddball joy, there is a dinner scene early on (where we get fully introduced to Karen’s disabled son Gunni) which is played up for maximum eerie discomfort and what you would assume is the climax has a suspense and tension largely lacking elsewhere.
Unfortunately, these strengths are unravelled by the movies’ laborious pacing, dull characterisation and frequently irritating script. Also, there is a film school smugness to the whole affair where the film seems to regard itself as far more out there and original than it is. All of which is frustrating because there is the odd moment that suggests this could have been great and that Milburn is a real film-making talent to watch.
Overall: A frustrating, overlong and ultimately dull watch that can’t be saved by either it is odd flashes of genuine dread, occassional bit of captivating surreal imagery or the outstanding performance from Kingsley.