The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - CANNIBAL FARM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review (VOD) - CANNIBAL FARM

cannibal farm review
A family's trip to the countryside turns bloody.

Review by Sue Finn

Directed by: Charlie Steeds

Starring: Kate Davies-Speak, Barrington De La Roche, David Lenik, Rowena Bentley, Toby Wynn-Davies

cannibal farm poster

Cannibal Farm opens with a tragic act of cruelty against a child many years before, the boy with the melted face prophetically rhymed about in the prologue written across the screen when the movie started.

This is swiftly followed by a tragic suicide before we are plunged into the present day where a husband and wife are preparing for a technology-free weekend away in the country with the family. The husband is one of those curmudgeonly asshole types whom you wonder why wives on film put up with.

Grumpy Wesley whinges and whines and then eventually sets off on the journey once the kids have all piled into the minivan for the clearly resented upcoming getaway.

If writer/producer/director Charlie Steeds were taking requests, this patronising bully would be my first victim of choice.

cannibal farm

The family consists of Wesley the petulant stepfather (Toby Wynn-Davies), Kathy the compliant ineffectual mother (Rowena Bentley – good), good-girl daughter Jess (Kate Marie Davies – very good) and her ‘manly’ boyfriend Curtis, (Joe Street) drama queen son Toby (David Lenik – grows on you) and younger son Sam (Dylan Curtis – never once believable).

They get lost of course and so pull over to ask directions to ‘The Old Hansen Farm’ from a colourful local who is speaking in such a thick brogue it’s hard to understand a word he says, except that he has some nice homemade cider to sell them.

For some reason they camp at the side of the road and settle in for the night, preparing dinner around a campfire and airing out their family’s dirty laundry.

Jess and Curtis are vegans, which Wesley enjoys goading them about; Wesley has a tantrum over Toby’s phone and throws it into the woods in a hissy fit - helpful.

Toby and Jess have a heart to heart about their life choices before he retreats to the van to watch a horror movie on his laptop, and eventually they all wind up sleeping.

This sets the tone for the one genuinely creepy scene in the movie. It would have been highly effective if the pay off had not relied on a reaction from Sam. The actor's failure to express fear robs the scene of its power, which is a shame as the rest of the movie seems to equate gore with scares.

Just as the family are reeling from this fright, the tent has caught alight and some injuries are sustained; seeking help they head for the nearest farm, where things go from bad to worse.

cannibal farm

After a standoff at gunpoint (it must be said here that unfortunately the gun shot effects neither look nor sound effective) they are caught, caged and told the doors are electrified.

Wouldn’t you know it, Old Man Cider is actually Farmer Hansen (Barrington De La Roche in a fully committed performance) and they are in Hansen Farm after all… but something tells me they left the caging and wholesale slaughter off the brochure.

Hansen, who turns out to be the father of the boy so horribly maimed in the intro, tells them a bloody self-origins story that does nothing to alleviate their terror.

Curtis decides to rashly attempt an escape that ends rather badly. Question - would gripping electric fences really make your hands explode? Yeah, I thought not!

The cider man goes upstairs to spend time with the skeleton of his lost love and there’s a gloriously inept shot of the screws attaching the skeletal foot to the ankle.

It’s clear that the director has been heavily influenced by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with echoes of the infamous dinner scene recreated in a “oh no we’re in cages” moment, but it has done nothing to earn the terror it is hoping to mimic and it really just makes me want to watch that classic as opposed to this exercise in exploitation which has failed to grasp TCM's thematic lessons, its deeper social commentary allowing it to get away with the violence and horror in a way this inferior homage cannot.

The plot thickens with some betrayal that is not entirely convincing, some truly inspired but sick behaviour by Toby and a wider community involvement than first thought.

There are some interesting plot machinations that work well and daughter Jess shows an inner resourcefulness that’s to be admired; there’s even a scene between mother and son that’s absurdly touching.

cannibal farm

Ultimately though the strands of storyline cross a little too much for my liking and a simple story becomes something more unwieldy than advisable; it should be said though that it pulls the strands together nicely for a satisfying ending.

For a film so obviously influenced by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the lack of restraint is its downfall. TCM is a masterpiece in the use of dread, sound and the audience’s imagination to create a visceral experience that shows very little gore but still allows you to feel that squirmy, dirty terror it revels in.

Steeds should have chosen a direction and fully embraced it, either by emulating TCM completely or going the exploitative genre film route. Instead this movie seems to want to have the best of both worlds, and so it feels lacking in personality and unsure of itself.

This film had potential to be either a terrifying memorable experience or a schlocky good time.

It ended up being neither.

Not a total washout, but given its possibilities, it's disappointing none the less.

Cannibal Farm is on VOD January 2nd.