Thursday, 4 June 2015

Canuck Horror and Canuck Comedy offer up distinctive shrieks- Reviews By Greg Klymkiw - BERKSHIRE COUNTY ****, MANGIACAKE ***

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.

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 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. Playdates so far are as follows:

OPENS Theatrically – JUNE 5, 2015
TORONTO – Carlton Cinema, 20 Carlton St.
OTTAWA – Landmark Kanata, 801 Kanata Ave
WHITBY – Landmark Cinemas 24 Whitby, 75 Consumers Drive

More cities to follow

Mangiacake (2015)
Dir. Nate Estabrooks
Scr. Christina Cuffari & Estabrooks
Starring: Melanie Scrofano, Christina Cuffari, Jocelyne Zucco, Paula McPherson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Mangiacake takes the cake for being one of the most perversely entertaining ethnic family comedies I've seen in quite some time. It's not perfect; the film's ultra-low budget sometimes betrays it in the production-value department with spotty sound, flat lighting and spartan production design, BUT, if you can overlook those elements, then you'll probably have a good time.

Two early-20-something Italian sisters (Melanie Scrofano, Christina Cuffari) move back home with their mother and grandmother. They're major-league squabblers and sparks fly right from the beginning.

One sister has suffered a massive concussion and suffers from memory loss, an especially inconvenient state of affairs since she's studying for finals in traditional Chinese medicine. (There are a couple of knee-slappers involving acupuncture needles and fresh produce.) The other sister, a not-too-successful actress is fleeing responsibility, auditioning for roles she'll probably never get and embroiled in a very odd text-only romantic relationship.

Mom (Paula McPherson), unprepared for being assailed by the squabbling sisters is hitting the sauce a bit too heavily and Grandma (Jocelyne Zucco), devoted to Jesus and the Virgin Mary, attempts to broker peace with her endless looks of displeasure and nonsensical old world sayings.

A good chunk of the movie is devoted to the bickering twixt the sisters. This is pretty easy to take since both actresses are easy on the eyes and acquit themselves especially well -- they've got to spit out lines at each other faster than a gatling gun and often, at the top of their considerable Italian lungs. In fact, this is what I found especially insane -- the movie is an almost non-stop screamfest with plenty of good insults hurled back and forth and eventually building to a chaotic everything but the kitchen sink climax of madness and not without hilarity.

Watching two young, hot Italian babes screaming at each other and engaging occasionally in cat fights is probably what I responded to most of all. At times I couldn't believe how intense their jousting got, but the bigger it got, the more I thoroughly appreciated it.

At times, the pace of the dialogue (courtesy of the oddball screenplay) is a kind of Speedy Gonzalez version of Howard-Hawksian back and forth (courtesy of direction, cutting and performances) and that, almost in and of itself offers considerable pleasure. The writing feels like it comes from a real place, even though much of it is overwrought -- it's overwrought in ways I've witnessed in many ethnic family dynamics.

Estabrooks' coverage as a director, is usually spot on. He shoots simply for the laughs, and production value aside, it's nicely directed. A dinner table scene is especially well done and, believe it or not, scenes around tables can often be the most difficult things to properly do. Hell, they can sometimes be more challenging than a bloody car chase. Happily, it and a number of other comedy set-pices are nicely covered and cut. Oh, and yeah, the dinner table scene is especially grotesquely funny (as is much of the movie).

I'll admit to spitting up my Chinotto on more than one occasion.


Mangiacake is in limited theatrical release across Canada and also available via VOD. It opens July 19 at the Magic Lantern Rainbow Carlton Cinemas in Toronto.