This opens with a recent convention I’m getting tired of – a few minutes of murky writhing around in the dirt, with sawn-off limbs, a bedraggled and abused heroine, a lumbering maniac whose face is kept offscreen, close-ups of rusty or misused medical and agricultural and kitchen equipment and a general torture porn vibe … followed by a ‘two days earlier’ caption that takes the as-yet unidentified characters back to calmer, pre-horror times. And this in a film which later has a narrated flashback to a neat little horror incident – an art teacher rebuking a glum girl for sketching a horrific dismembered corpse when she’s supposed to be doing a nature study, only for the Baconesque sight to turn out to be real and the work of a rural maniac known as ‘the Tree Surgeon’ – that would have made a much stronger prologue. After that, it settles down into a not-exactly-innovative-but-solid-enough British slasher film which has a pleasing 1970s vibe (cf: Killer’s Moon) with added mobile phones. It’s an entry in the currently-thriving British sub-genre of weekend break horror (cf: The Scar Crow, Gnaw, Doghouse, Blood & Roses) in which a small bunch of folks with their own squabbles head out to a country retreat (here, a cottage supposedly in Devon where the locals have Cap’n Birdseye’s old mummerset accent) and have a bloody bad time.
Paige (Sophie Linfield), a practical nurse, is the fulcrum of the gang, which runs to her slightly weedy boyfriend Calvin (Rhys Meredith), his flakey blonde sister Mandy (Gemma Harvey) and her one-night-stand pick-up Tristan (Gordon Alexander). Three of them are supposed to have grown up in ‘these yere parts’ but they have accents from all over the British Isles, and run into a traveller with an Irish accent (Esther Shephard) in the woods. Besides being a hateful, unhelpful upper-class creep, Tristan has been warned by text message to stay out of town, and serves the function of making any situation worse with an unhelpful comment or self-interested action. The cheery copper (Jason Carter) warns the group about the murders in the vicinity, and then an injured, beardy bloke (Sam Hazeldine) knocks at the window with a bloody hand, claiming to be a wanderer called Shawn and the survivor of a brush with the unknown killer. Paige performs emergency first-aid (a nicely-played scene, which is mirrored when her line ‘there will be some pain’ is turned back on her later), and though Shawn’s reluctance to call the cops is suspicious, he is more or less put up with.
It’s one of those whodunits where there are only two suspects and suspicion wavers between them – then becomes moot since they both turn out to be murderers and some slashings (including throttling with a fishing line) whittle the cast down to the drooling, cackling sado (some kind of tree-worshipper, evidently) and the stripped-to-her-undies-and-dosed-with-ketamine heroine. The farmyard climax reuses bits from Don’t Go In the Woods (though the specific inspiration was probably The Descent) and, rather more surprisingly, Excalibur – with a nice final payoff exchange (‘what are you laughing at?’ ‘you, you’re terrified’). Linfield and Hazeldine are a notches better than the rest of the cast, but everyone is serviceable within the formula, and writer-director Kelly Smith handles the shock/splat/suspense stuff reasonably well. For this budget level, it takes some care with sound design, music, editing and effects – it’s still a run-of-the-mill slasher movie, but at least it’s done properly. Co-written by Chris Andrews.