Lionsgate // 2011 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // April 1st, 2011
Join the Harvest.
A group of teens have their planned weekend away ruined when a murder of crows inexplicably smashes into their car, causing them to crash. When the group comes to, they find that one of their number, Johnny (Ben Easter), is missing. Setting off to find their friend, and hopefully help, Brian (Wes Chatham) and Scott (Devon Graye) head into a cornfield they suspect Johnny may have wandered into, leaving behind Chris (C.J. Thomason) and Natalie (Tammin Sursok). It's not long before Brian and Scott locate their friend, but it soon becomes clear that something evil has taken possession of Johnny. Disturbed and afraid by their findings, the two friends head back to their car, but something else is in the cornfield, something evil and hungry for blood.
Taking into account its extremely low budget, not to mention a cast of unknowns and a first-time director, it would be unfair to judge Husk too harshly during its formulaic opening act. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the horror genre will draw comparisons to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (in either of its flavors), as our group of teens find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere; less forgiving viewers will certainly take umbrage with the group of teens insisting on splitting up at the earliest opportunity, thus ensuring their time on this mortal coil is near an end. But to do so would be to dismiss a perfectly serviceable setup, executed rather well. The first of the positives to grab you is writer/director Brett Simmons' ability to craft a fine-looking horror movie. The lighting is just right, and his use of shadows similarly impressive. Okay, so the film's aesthetic may have been seen before in the works of Hooper, Craven, and most other horror-meisters of the eighties that have clearly influenced his work, but credit where it's due. Simmons has clearly studied his field and understands what works and what doesn't. He even manages to introduce a new addition to the horror genre: the creepy sewing machine scene. Simmons also shows a knack for building up tension, and an anticipation for what is to come.
Act Two is more problematic, despite containing a few interesting turns. Rather than stick to a relatively conventional slasher formula, Husk introduces a series of flashbacks, witnessed only by the geek of the group, Scott, that open up the story. These sequences serve to lend the viewer more insight into the killers, and to add to the supernatural element of the film. It's certainly an unexpected take on the killer scarecrow genre, but it's questionable how effective it really is. Simmons certainly commits to his idea, even fleshing it out with a set of rules through which our heroes find the possibility of survival. The problem is the almost random way in which these flashbacks are introduced. Not only do they come completely out of left field, it's hard to shake the feeling that, had the back story surrounding the scarecrows been omitted, the scares may have been more effective.
Having established the rules, Husk works towards a climactic finale that perfectly captures both the film's triumphs and failures. Characters continue to make the wrong decisions at crucial times -- or more accurately, administer a scarecrow its last rites rather than blow its head off. On the other hand, Simmons continues to defy audience expectations by offing characters unexpectedly, while ensuring that Husk meets the one criterion of the killer scarecrow sub-genre, i.e., it must be fun.
Writer/director Brett Simmons certainly shows a knack for carving out an lean and effective horror movie, and it will be interesting to see how his career in the genre develops, as despite its flaws Husk continues to keep the viewer entertained throughout. No small part of this is down to the cast. Nobody going into a zero budget horror like Husk is going to expect much in terms of acting ability, but it's pleasing to note that each of the leads carries the film well.
The audio commentary, helmed by Simmons, reveals much of the reasoning that went into Husk, including the thinking behind a number of the more clichéd elements of the film. Complementing the commentary track is a short making of, which features a behind-the-scenes look at an attack scene being shot, along with Simmons offering up his thoughts on the horror genre. After that, we have a few storyboards and a photo gallery.
Husk is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The picture features excellent black levels (which is a good thing, considering how much of the film takes place at night), and contains a good level of detail. The 5.1 soundtrack is excellent, with good use of the rear speakers, and a clean mix ensuring each element is easily discernable.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Photo Gallery