College graduate Hunter (Brian Raetz) is travelling from New York towards Michigan, where he plans to visit his parents on their farm and tell them he's gay. He's particularly worried how his father Wayne (Derek Reynolds) will take the news, and so has brought along a group of pals - Clare (Lindsey Nicole), Gordon (Vibhu Raghave), Matt (Ryan Moore), Janelle (Sheila Leason), Flo (Nicole Dambro), Rocky (Keith Webb) and Lenox (Celina Beach) - for moral support. Together they party in their camper van en route, which is adorned with hippyish slogans like "honk if you're horny" and "good vibes".
"I just have to warn you" Hunter tells his friends as they approach his folks' remote abode, "small-town views are not like New York views". He's not kidding. As their van pulls outside the farmhouse, Wayne and his wife Ruth (Carol Ludwick) surface on the veranda to welcome them ... if that's the right word. Ruth tries her best to be accommodating but it's clear from the off that surly Wayne rules the roost. He doesn't look too impressed with the motley crew before him: a mish mash of tanned biceps, exposed flesh and luminously colourful clothing. And, true to form, he doesn't take well to his son's revelation.
Still, the group get to meet Hunter's affable younger sister Jenny (Addisyn Wallace) and make their way into the family home. Between them, the real reason they're there is for the barn dance that Hunter has promised to organise for them.
That afternoon, the group set about converting one of Wayne's barns for a dance. The miserable old bastard even pitches in. Reluctantly. Come the evening, the barn is ready and the festivities begin. These entail everyone wearing chequered shirts, a lot of line-dancing (I've no idea where the extra guests suddenly came from), eating pizza and group members getting off with people here, there and everywhere.
But, as the kids party, Wayne and Ruth are about to meet a sticky end in the farmhouse. While checking under Jenny's bed for a "monster", Wayne finds precisely that - Ruth too, moments later. By the end of the evening, Jenny's gone missing and Hunter's friends start getting picked-off one by one.
Can Hunter learn the secret behind the beastly Pitchfork (Daniel Wilkinson) - so named due to a pitchfork handle soldered on to the stump of his right arm, which goes nicely with his fur-covered face - and save the day?
PITCHFORK comes from first-time feature director Glenn Douglas Packard. From its opening tracking shots through the farm's surrounding fields, all of which are set to a quivering female interpretation of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands", it's clear that here's a director with a great flair for visuals. True enough, he makes terrific use of the great location - it's actually the farm he grew up on, in Clare, Michigan. Shooting on a single camera, the Sony a7s, he and cinematographer Rey Gutierrez make every scene count on an aesthetic level: everything is immaculately framed within attractive widescreen compositions, often utilising imaginative camera angles at the same time; the whole thing is well-lit and slickly edited.
Perhaps, though, that's all designed to distract us from a couple of major shortcomings. First off, the plot offers nothing new: this is by-the-numbers slasher fare. Any early inkling that PITCHFORK is going to tackle sexual prejudice or offer interesting insight into the city/country cultural divide is soon tossed aside, Packard being more concerned with putting his characters through the all-too-familiar motions.
Speaking of the characters, they're all pretty stereotypical. The backwoods parents; the self-doubting gay son; his friends who comprise of the jock, the slut, the brainy one etc. Oh, and whether it's by design or totally accidental, the protagonists are so in tune with those "politically correct" posters you tend to see in offices nowadays that this seems less like a horror film and more like an advert for equality. We have a group consisting of a homosexual male, an Italian hunk, a black American, an Asian guy, a British woman abroad (Beach's accent is horrible) etc. All we needed was a character in a wheelchair and Packard could've rested easy in the knowledge he'd covered all bases. Not that that's a bad thing per se, and in many ways is to be applauded. But seeing as though none of these backgrounds, creeds or sexual/religious persuasions are explored - or even exploited - in the script, you can't help but think Packard is ticking boxes and nothing more.
Still, no crime there. No, PITCHFORK's worst offence is that it never grabs its viewer. It looks pretty, the camerawork is impressive, the cast are attractive, but ... it's all very familiar, extremely predictable. Even the gore is too polite to elevate the film to a level the more forgiving extreme horror fans would appreciate.
Despite all of this, the film has won several awards including Best Film at 2016's Atlanta Horror Film Festival. Maybe I'm just jaded?
PITCHFORK will enjoy a limited theatrical run in America during January 2017. It's also receiving an "On Demand" release at the same time, via distributors Uncork'd Entertainment. Whether a DVD release will follow remains to be seen - but we'll strive to keep you informed.
As a first attempt, PITCHFORK shows a lot of potential from Packard. If he can find a screenplay with characters and action worthy of his clear flair for interesting visuals, he'll be on to a winner. And he perhaps needs to stop showing off with his camera a little - some scenes would actually benefit from a static camera resting on characters during key moments of dialogue!
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Uncork'd Entertainment|