★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Hans Stjernsward
A hillbilly cannibal horror tale… and that should give you some clues about how this goes down. This is a hard watch.
Here’s a movie that belongs in the hillbilly horror/road trip horror canon. And that might be both a good and a bad thing. Like many films of this sub-genre, this is a tough watch for most audiences and is even a little rough for hardened horror fans. If you’ve read our Bridge Too Far post, with our fear level analysis, I would put this movie as a 20. It is a tried and true trope, the young couple taking a road trip who need to find a place to rest, and they get directed to a series of cabins that’s about 20 minutes off the beaten path. The acting of our two leads Nora Yesslund (Nora) and Alec Gaylord (Alec) are solid, as our sympathetic will-be victims. Their pre-horror banter comes off naturally, but they stumble into the most time-honored trap tropes… the crazy in-bred housekeeper. Double down on the fact that the cabins they check into are old scout camp cabins, in a seriously dilapidated state, including a blood-stained mattress that the couple fails to notice. The couple had gas, all they needed to do was switch drivers rather than stay in a skeevy off-the-beaten-path cabin-in-the-woods.
Needless to say, they get abducted by a big goon hiding under their bed. (Genuinely creepy reveal) and they wake up caged in the middle of a farming commune, trapped with a number of fellow gullible travelers. The men are cattle stock, and the women are the dairy stock. Ewwww. OK, up to this point, the premise holds strong. The disappointing thing is that the film struggles to figure out its voice in the second act. The cultists all (mostly all) wear plastic animal masks at all times… which makes little sense, particularly knowing how hard it is to see or breathe behind those things. Why wear a These cultists are supernaturally perceptive to spot sneaking escapees while behind cattle masks… you’ve worn a plastic Halloween mask… you can’t see squat from behind those masks! On an aside, a hockey mask is designed to allow for good vision as goalies have to see a puck coming their way, so Jason’s mask totally makes sense. The animal referential flip is also too on-the-nose for my taste. The animals turning on the humans. Unnecessary for the most part. Also, the cultists say nothing, with the exception of the in-bred innkeeper and one of his dim-witted henchmen. So, I have issues with the villains in this movie.
The movie has some really gruesome shock scenes, some are critical to the story, but it had others which seem largely unnecessary, not advancing the plot or add in any depth to the characters than to indicate how nasty the villains are. Without a context for why the farm is what it is, or how they fell sway to the odd innkeeper, it fails to connect other than to gross you out. Multiple attempts are made to escape, and many attempts are foiled. I think the film would also have benefitted by truncating the second and third acts to a more streamlined escape plan. The ending is a classic nihilistic brutal ending, but with an attempt to try an overtly artistic homage, but I think it felt tacked on after what we had just witnessed.
The live audience reception was tepid, and I felt bad for Stjernsward, who was in attendance, as most of the audience fled immediately after credits rolled. If this would have been a focus group screening, they would have sent the director back in for edits. If your test screening audience is a horror fan base, and they all flee your movie afterward, that’s a bad sign. This movie had strong influences from Motel Hell, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Hostel. And it is the sadistic edge that gets muddled by the goofy villains that undoes this. Rather than stick to a straight torture porn film, like Hostel, or a horror satire, like Motel Hell, it splits the difference and ends up less weighty as a consequence. It’s not a film without merits, as there is some authentically scary stuff, and the gore effects are BRUTAL. It does succeed in my rule #1 which is that you have to care for the protagonists, but in the end, it was undone a bit by the oddly constructed escape sequence, and you don’t get to see how the escape plans really unfold. I would have just headed for the hills. Also, how many “the car won’t start” tropes are you allowed in one film? For those with the stomach for intense gore, you might do well with this film, as a mixed bag response from me might be completely different for you.
If you see this film, though, you probably won’t forget it anytime soon! (For better or worse) The Farm is not yet rated and does not yet have a wide release date.