Looking back, the fact that Ti West directed this should have been a clue that I was going to be disappointed. After all, I only really like one of his eight horror films (The Innkeepers) – that’s not good odds.
However, this appeared to be a pastiche of exploitation 70s style horror with a healthy dose of killer hillbillies and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so I figured I was on safe ground, as those themes are my jam.
This film starts strong, with well defined characters in Maxine (Mia Goth), the wannabe-porn-star, and her manager/partner Wayne (the always reliable Martin Henderson) getting excited about their plans to shoot a porn movie on-site at a farmhouse in Texas, rented specifically for that purpose.
They set off with a ragtag team of sex-workers and minimal film crew – Jenna Ortega as Lorraine the reluctant sound operator, and Brittany Snow as the experienced Bobby-Lynne, make impactful impressions, but Kid Cudi and Owen Campbell round out the cast with equally good performances. There’s not a weak member in the cast and the characters are interesting, I had high hopes for a good time at the movies.
The problems start as soon as we are introduced to the Texas farmhouse homeowners – the first time Wayne meets up with Howard, the old man pulls a gun on him, and is openly hostile towards the paying guest. Ignoring this red flag, they press ahead with their film-making plans, and I’m left thinking they are idiots deliberately putting themselves in harms way – ok, I will have to overlook that in order to get to the killings, I think, fine.
But then, the film brings us to the character of Pearl (also Mia Goth) and things turn from sublime to ridiculous.
Howard and Pearl are quite obviously young people in heavy make up – its so obvious in their voices/movements/actions but to add the cheap looking make up on top makes suspension of disbelief nigh-on impossible.
Howard and Pearl don’t go the expected route of being mad that porn is being filmed at their farmhouse but are instead ploys in an incredibly convoluted plot in which the octogenarian Pearl suffers from a high libido that her aging husband cannot satisfy, and this makes her crazy enough to become an insatiable murderer? No, that doesn’t make sense, even if she were physically capable of doing the things West has her doing here (spoiler alert – she would not be).
What did work for me was the evocation of the 70s era – this was done expertly and was definitely one of the films strengths, along with the central cast. The cinematography was wonderfully dreamy in some scenes, suitably gritty in others; I particularly enyed the aerial shot of a lurking crocodile.
Though competently filmed, I found the storyline troubling on many levels – the ageism of shaming and even going so far as to film a sex scene between elderly people as a ‘gross-out’ moment sits uncomfortably with me, the actual motivations behind the killings doesn’t work, the hints at a legacy of shame and religion aren’t explored fully and neither is the real-life illness that is ‘Sundowners’ which is cough-and-you’ll-miss-it mentioned, the reasoning behind not hiring actual elderly actors is something I cant fathom, and after all the hoo ha, the killings themselves are somewhat tame. This wasn’t in anyway scary either, and so it all feels pointless in the end, as well as over-long, inconsistent and tonally muddled.
I really really wanted to like this, but it left a bad taste in my mouth and I wouldn’t watch it again.
What a shame.