Sunday, April 3, 2011

Husk (2010)

The traditional car full of young people (Devon Graye, Wes Chatham, C.J. Thomason, Tammin Sursok, Ben Easter) is going on a trip. Somewhere in the place of horror usually known as "the country", a gaggle of crows starts a kamikaze attack on the car's windscreen, causing it to crash by the side of a cornfield. Everyone loses consciousness for a while, but when they awake, one of them - Johnny - has disappeared. Surely, he has just made his way through the corn to the next farm for help and there's no need to worry?

Still, the more heroically inclined part of the group makes its way through the field in the hope of finding their friend, or possibly help. But something's not right at all. The field contains some peculiar scarecrows; they all look a bit too bulky to me, and are there supposed to be so many flies around them? The mood of wrongness doesn't improve when his friends find Johnny inside the otherwise empty farm. He's not talking and seems to have developed a sudden enthusiasm for mutely using an old-fashioned sewing machine in a not factory-approved way. Johnny also looks somewhat, well, dead. And of course there's something or someone lurking in the field too, something very fast that is bound to grab a horror movie character and do something unpleasant to him or her pretty damn soon.

You probably can't blame Brett Simmons's Husk for being very original. All the film's elements have been used before in other films in about the same combination. Consequently, not much of what's happening will be much of a surprise to anyone with even minor knowledge of the history of horror films.

Fortunately, you can get away with a lack in originality in genre cinema when you're able to pull off a satisfying execution, and Simmons is quite good at that part of his job. In the best B-movie tradition, Husk knows what it wants (first being creepy, then shouting "boo!" for a bit, then being exciting, then being loveable by not having a twist ending), knows what's relatively cheap and creepy (scarecrows, cornfields, things that come from behind, dilapidated farmhouses, the country), and knows how to use the latter to realize the former.

For large parts of the movie, Simmons is keeping the pacing just right, putting enough breathing space between the shocks to not fall into the carnival ride mode of lesser horror movies, but at the same time never stopping for too long to let his audience think too much, so that the usual complaint about the characters acting like idiots (which is, by the way, often enough how people act in real life) will probably not apply; unless you've come to nitpick instead to enjoy. The whole film carries with it a palpable love for the horror genre and its traditions, but does not seem to feel the need to show off with it; there is neither the ironic posturing ("look, I'm doing the same old shite as the laziest slasher films of the 80s, but I'm doing it ironically instead of trying to fix the form's problems") nor the "I'm just kidding, boobies, hurr-hurr" dumbness that can make certain parts of the contemporary horror landscape so completely fucking annoying. Husk prefers to be tight.

Simmons is also pretty good at the character bits. I'm not talking deep psychological exploration here (the film's too much of the fast and fun type of horror for that), but the stock characters as they are written here possess enough life to give the solid cast (now I'm sounding like Variety; just need to work on absurd, made-up words, "stock charcs?") something to work with. More interesting victims arise, and so the audience - hopefully - cares a little more about what happens to them.

On the nitpicking front, I only had my problems with the way the film provides the (un)necessary exposition on the background of the cursed farm it takes place on. Of course, giving one character random visions is still better than having everything explained by a diary found in the farm's attic, so I'm not going to grumble about this too loudly. I'm just not completely sure the film needs these explanations at all, and wouldn't fare better with either just dropping subtle visual clues or just letting the supernatural be inexplicable and without any knowable reason.

However, when the only thing I'm complaining about in a contemporary low budget horror movie is some minor part of its script's execution, it's a sign that I had a lot of fun watching it. Husk is just a very fine film, with exactly as much ambition as it can realistically realize, made by a director about whose future films I'm already excited.


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