I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a cannibal film. So, of course I was interested in Escape From Cannibal Farm despite the fact that the movie poster screams of homage. It’s a dude wearing another dude’s face, a butcher apron and wielding a chainsaw. Sound familiar? Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and it appears that Charlie Steeds harbors a profound reverence for Tobe Hooper and his cannibal masterpiece The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But we know that just from looking at the poster.
You rarely hear the entire Oscar Wild quote, though, do you? “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Let’s break this down, shall we?
The Harver family is heading out for an electronic-device-free camping trip in the hopes of burying long held resentments and find a new respect for one another, but the odds are stacked against them. Wesley (Toby Wynn-Davies) is the step father who seems to hate everything and everyone. His wife, Katherine (Rowena Bentley), is a doormat who allows both Wesley and her children to treat her like crap. Jessica (Kate Davis-Speak) is her oldest child and she has brought along her boyfriend Kurt. Kurt (Joe Street) who is, inexplicably, dressed for an afternoon of tennis and is a vegan (i.e.) an insufferable wanker who’s death is strangely satisfying. Middle brother Toby (David Lenik) initially comes off as another throw away character, but he will prove us very wrong on that front. Sam, the youngest child, needs to take some more acting classes because he was never, ever once visibly scared. Ever. I know that it’s poor form to criticize a child, but this kid really ruined more than a few scenes with his inability to react to DUDE WITH A CHAINSAW CHASING HIM.
Upon seeing the random creepy guy sitting by the side of the road, this dysfunctional family asks him for directions to The Hansen Farm. (Do you get it? Hansen Farm. Gunnar Hansen.) Anyway… they decide to stop their RV in the middle of a desolate road and set up camp in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, their choice of camping spot is simply beyond my comprehension. Especially if they were hoping to go to a farm? Is camping at farms something that takes place in the U.K.? I don’t know. Settled around the campfire, Wesley tells the story of the Boy With the Melted Face and now the stage is properly set for people in the middle of nowhere with no cell phones to be attacked by the local cannibals.
Here’s the thing. Escape From Cannibal Farm begins so beautifully. A truly atrocious act of violence occurs to the aforementioned boy with a melted face and that is then followed by a grisly suicide. Steeds depends a bit too much on slow motion in these moments, but it’s gorgeous and sets the stage for the kind of movie that has an engaging storyline and characters that, ultimately, become the kind that you root for. The very detailed backstory of the Boy With the Melted Face and the current state of Hansen Farm is treated with a level of sensitivity that just doesn’t jive with the grind house feel of the scenes where our family is locked in cages, awaiting to be butchered alive. Add to that some questionable deaths (do hands really explode when electrocuted?) and it’s just too much in one film. Coming in at an hour and forty minutes, one can’t help but wonder if it would have behooved Steeds to have made two separate films with the two very different atmospheres.
Escape From Cannibal Farm has got great bones, fun gore and really solid performances from Davis-Speak and Lenik. Jessica transforms into a final girl that you really relate to and Lenik has a strangely touching moment with Bentley after he transforms into the badass that we all want to believe we would be if we were kidnapped by cannibals. Essentially, there’s just too much going on. This movie gets in the way of itself and it’s a shame because there is so much good here, but the competing atmospheres of the various storylines muddy the water too much. If you love a cannibal film and/or a grind house film, then this is a fun, if long, ride. But if you’re looking for something a bit more heady, perhaps skip this one.
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont
Images: Octobercoast PR