A Clever Slasher Flick -- Who Knew These Still Existed?
This review is based on the first test screening of Husk. Though the moderator insisted the film only needed some minor sound and color fixes, the audience feedback provided could change the edit of the film to adjust pacing, character importance, and other significant elements to anticipate critical and audience reaction for a theatrical release.
It is hard to be a slasher fan anymore in America. The past few years of Hollywood output have left us with studio remakes of everything from the 1980s or low budget originals relying on post-Scream meta-horror to turn an aggressive and campy form into something highly polarizing within the community. While Husk may not be a revolutionary horror experience, it is a clever little slasher film done well.
The basic conceit of the film is familiar to anyone who has experienced a slasher before. A group of five friends are driving to a fun weekend getaway when they are stopped by a mysterious car accident. They are stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cellular service. Lucky for them, the car stopped by a small farm house separated from the road by a large cornfield. The problem is someone does not want them to get to the house and begins their assault within the opening scene of the film. The narrative starts right away and does not stop until the final frame.
This is the second feature film from writer/director Brett Simmons. His only other credit is an unreleased romantic comedy, Mark of Love. Simmons makes the most of a limited budget by embracing the small handful of creepy settings - the road, the cornfield, the house, a workshop filled with rusty tools, and a graveyard of abandoned cars in and around the cornfield - with creative action sequences and tightly controlled camera angles. There are scares in this film unlike anything I have encountered in a horror film before. The film fulfills its promise of unpredictable action not with an unending series of unbelievable twists, but from the innovative staging of a small cast in a restrictive area. Simmons does not rely on long stretches of exposition to explain everything to the audience. Characters are defined through actions and necessary interactions. Only in the calm before the climax does he allow his characters to step back and understand what is going on.
Husk is best described as a paranormal slasher film of reinvention. There are obvious influences to the design, plot, and characters of the film from the history of horror cinema. The cars in the cornfield are styled after the immobilized cars of Children of the Corn, down to the placement of corn husks through gas caps and windshields. The line between reality/delusion and friend/enemy is blurred much like Carpenter's The Thing and Cabin Fever. Though I did not agree with the following assessment, a few horror fans I know compared the style and villain design to Jeepers Creepers. Simmons also attempts to spice up the dialog with nods to B-movie humor that are about as successful as genuine B-movie attempts at campy humor. Regardless, these references and horror clichés are used to establish audience expectations early on. The standard characters and plot are quickly pushed to new unique roles. Husk makes it impossible to rely upon your instincts to know what is going to happen to which character when. If you know for sure who is going to die beforehand, you have nothing to look forward to in a slasher. If the writer and director make the deaths and disappearances genuinely shocking, you become more invested in the dwindling group of survivors. Husk quickly establishes that necessary sense of the unknown that all the great slasher films have as their strongest calling card.
Simmons' vision is aided by serviceable acting from the entire cast. They do not overplay their parts and make the standard poor choices in horror films seem just a bit more believable. The integration of practical and CGI effects are flawless for some brutal gore inflicted by unsavory instruments on the farm. Though I found the reveal of the true nature of the villain and the twist ending predictable, an early understanding of these late plot elements did not ruin the experience. The film does not rely on a secret twist ending for scares or memorability. The true joy of Husk lies in the inventive and unexpected action sequences and strong manipulation of suspense to make you care about what happens to these five friends at the cornfield.
Robert is a frequenter commenter on Pajiba. He is choosing not to link to his web projects to help ensure he is not blacklisted from future advanced screenings in his area.