Friday, 28 November 2014

BERKSHIRE COUNTY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Hot babysitter-in-peril thriller superbly directed, intelligently written and laced with female-empowerment undertones.

In the middle of nowhere, on All Hallows Eve:
Berkshire County (2014)
Dir. Audrey Cummings
Starring: Alysa King, Madison Ferguson, Cristophe Gallander,
Samora Smallwood, Bart Rochon, Aaron Chartrand, Leo Pady, Robert Nolan

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Pigs get a bad rap. They're gentle, friendly and intelligent creatures. Alas, in the parlance of western culture, since time immemorial, really, the pig has been synonymous with a variety of grotesqueries such as filth, greed, gluttony, violence, corruption and most decidedly, just plain uncouth behaviour. With that rather unfair but common understanding of piggishness, it seems only appropriate that the damnable porkers abound malevolently in Berkshire County, the dazzling first feature by Canadian filmmaker Audrey Cummings. On the surface and at its most basic level, it could be seen as a simple, straight-up babysitter-in-peril-during-a-home-invasion thriller.

Sure, it most certainly is that, especially if that's all you're looking for. However, it's not quite as straight up as one might suspect. The reason it works so superbly is that the simple premise is successfully mined to yield several levels of complexity which add to the picture's richness. Most notably, there's the matter of the movie's virtuosity. Cummings directs the picture with the kind of within-an-inch-of-her-life urgency and stratospheric level of craft that, with the whiz-bang cutting of editor Michael P. Mason and Michael Jari Davidson's evocative lensing, yield a horror suspense thriller that infuses you with creepy-crawly dread and one astounding scare set-piece after another.

That, frankly, would be enough to spew laudatory ejaculate right in the face of the whole affair, but on a deeper thematic level, Cummings and screenwriter Chris Gamble offer up a delectably sumptuous and varied buffet for an audience to gobble up with the ferocity of snuffling hogs at the trough. Berkshire County is an intense, topical, nasty, darkly funny and even politically-charged feminist horror picture in the tradition of other leading Canadian female genre directors like the Soska Sisters, Karen Lam and Jovanka Vuckovic.

It's proof positive, once again, that Canadian WOMEN are leading the charge of terrifying, edge-of-your-seat horror-fests that are as effectively drawer-filling as they are provocative and politically astute. It's unabashed exploitation injected with discerning observational power.

The film begins during a Halloween party in the rural enclave of the film's title. The gorgeous teenage girl-next-door Kylie Winters (Alysa King) arrives adorned in the sexiest Little Red Riding Hood costume imaginable. Heads swivel in her general direction, but none more so than that of the handsome Marcus (Aaron Chartrand), a hunky stud-horse-man-boy from the local high school. He, like the other small town, small-minded fellas is swine (of the male chauvinist variety) incarnate.

In what's possibly one of the more disturbing acts committed in any genre picture of recent memory, Kylie is plied with booze, coerced - essentially date-raped - into blowing Marcus. Unbeknownst to her, she's captured on his smart phone movie camera which he promptly uploads to cyber space for all to see.

Though the film has previously opened with a creepy Kubrickian traveling overhead shot of the county's forested, isolated topography (a la The Shining), Cummings and Gamble plunge us into very unexpected territory. Initially, the horror is neither supernatural nor of the psychopathic variety, but a monstrous act of sexual abuse, followed by the insidious cyber-dissemination of pornographic images of said abuse and then the teasing, bullying and shame experienced by Kylie who was the target of the abuse and subsequent derision levelled at her by peers.

Ripped from the headlines of a veritable myriad of similar cases involving tragic sexual abuse, we are privy to one of the more abominable aspects of contemporary teen culture. In Canada, the most horrific example is that of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons who, plied with booze and gang raped on camera, committed suicide when the images went viral. What faces Kylie is so debilitatingly nasty that she's the one made to feel like a pariah - as if she were to blame. Even Kylie's repressed dough-headed mother blames Kylie for bringing scandal upon the family.

To add insult to injury, Kylie is further estranged from those who should be offering support when she is practically forced by her mother to take a Halloween night babysitting gig at an isolated mansion on the outskirts of the community. That said, Kylie seems to welcome the peace and isolation the job might afford, far away from the piggish behaviour of her abuser, his stupid friends, her idiot mother and everyone else who teases and/or affixes blame upon her. A gorgeous mansion with all the amenities and two sweet kids has Heaven on Earth written all over it. Or so she (and we) think. She (and we) are wrong about that.

He has a butcher knife
. . . and friends!
Pigs, you see, are lurking in the woods. Not just any pigs, mind you, but a family of travelling serial killers adorned in horrifying pig masks. And these sick fuckers mean business. Happily, Cummings and Gamble have fashioned a terrific female empowerment tale within the context of the horror genre. By focusing, in the first third, upon the teen culture of abuse and bullying and then tossing their lead character into a nail-bitingly terrifying maze of sheer horror, they, as filmmakers and we, as an audience, get to have the whole cake and eat it too. The final two-thirds cleverly and relentlessly presents one seemingly impossible challenge after another and we're front-row passengers on a roller coaster ride of mostly unpredictable chills and thrills until we're eyeballs-glued-to-the-screen during some deliciously repellent violence and, of course, a bit of the old feminist-infused empowerment.

Joining a fine tradition of home invasion movies like The Strangers and You're Next, it's a film that, in its own special way exceeds the aims of those seminal works because it places the horror in a context of the kind of horror which has become all too real in contemporary society. In a sense, the film's target audience, teens and young 20-somethings (and middle-aged horror geeks who've never grown up) will get everything they want out of the picture - and then some.

And just so we're not feeling too warm and fuzzy after the film's harrowing climax, Cummings spews a blood-spattered shocker upon us - one that horror fans have seen a million times before, but when it's served up right, we're always happy to see it again. So take a trip to Berkshire County. It's a fork in the road (and blade in the gut) worth choosing.


Berkshire County, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the esteemed Shriekfest Film Festival in Los Angeles, enjoys it's Canadian premiere during the 2014 Blood in the Snow Film Festival at the Magic Lantern Carlton Theatres in Toronto. It will be released in Canada via A-71 and is being sold to the rest of the world by the visionary Canadian sales agency Raven Banner.