Sunday, October 20, 2013

Another Roadside Massacre

100 Bloody Acres

100 Bloody Acres (2012, directed by Cameron and Colin Cairns) is one of those rural massacre movies that grew up in the American South, only to take root worldwide. This one is set in Australia, where the bush is prone to drive folks a bit looney. The Cairns are completely aware of the cinematic tradition in which they're working, and they're certainly not above throwing in references to other movies, but they don't do it in a lazy, self-referential manner. Instead, they weave it into a running thread of black comedy. There has always been a strain of ghoulish humor in this kind of movie, and this one embraces that with a gusto.

100 Bloody Acres

Reg Morgan and his brother Lindsay run an organic fertilizer business. Their prize product is a blood and bone fertilizer made from roadkill. Sometimes, that roadkill is human. We first meet Reg collecting the victim of a car crash. Reg is a scrawny guy, so wrangling the body is a chore for him, especially while looking out for any passing witnesses. Once he sorts the body, accidentally chopping off its fingers with the door of his truck he continues on his merry way. Meanwhile, a trio of young people have broken down on their way to a music festival. These are Sophie, Wes, and James. James and Sophie are a couple, but Sophie has been straying with Wes. James is getting ready to pop the question to Sophie, but he keeps getting interrupted before he can get the chance. They try to flag down a ride to take them to their destination, and the ride they eventually get to stop thanks to Sophie's good looks is Reg Morgan. Reg fancies Sophie, and makes the two men ride in the back once he's sorted it so that the body in the truck is hidden under bags of manure. Unfortunately, James and Wes discover it, and Reg has to think fast to cover his tracks. Once at his place, he takes the lot of them prisoner. It's Lindsay's idea to grind them up for their special fertilizer mix and he bullies Reg into going along. Reg still fancies Sophie, though, and Wes has a switchblade that he uses to escape, leaving Sophie and James bound in the grinding room. Things begin to escalate from there...

100 Bloody Acres

For a gore comedy, this is remarkably sweet-natured. It's almost romantic, with Reg wooing Sophie with a kind of mercy, kindness, and deference that rural degenerates rarely show their bound captives. Reg is a sweet man who has been cowed by his menacing brother and the events of this movie act as a stand-in for family therapy between the two. Sophie, James, and Wes get their share of relationship drama, too. The scene where James finds out that Sophie has been sleeping with Wes is one of the most outre stagings of such a scene that I can remember. Horror movies often act as a kind of crucible for their characters. It just so happens that the emotions and relationships put to the test in this film are the kinds of emotions and relationships that underline romantic comedies rather than rural massacre movies. It's a creative and startling juxtaposition, and, incredibly, it works.

100 Bloody Acres

Owing, perhaps, to the nature of its characters, this is a sunlit horror movie. None of this film's scenes are set at night, though there is a metaphorical darkness found in the shed where Reg and Lindsay confine their captives. The Cairn brothers make this work by paying attention to the details of their setting. This is a very Australian film, and in some of its comedy beats, it resembles the early films of Peter Jackson. Certainly, Lindsay's "relationship" with Aunt Nancy is the sort of offensive aside that made those film so surprising. This is more controlled than anything Jackson ever made, though.

100 Bloody Acres

There's a small piece of acting business about halfway through this film that endeared the entire enterprise to me. The scene finds Wes, who is tripping acid, escaping from the Morgan brothers by stealing their truck and heading for help. He winds up at a closed amusement park with the hulking Lindsay in pursuit. He gets out of the truck, but leaves the keys in the ignition. Having learned from Reg's mistake--leaving the keys in the ignition let Wes get away in the first place--Lindsay pauses at the truck to grab the keys. Sensible enough, and a plot point. But then he stops for a second or two and checks his hair in the sideview mirror. By this time 100 Bloody Acres had already tipped its hand as ghastly comedy, and this piece of acting, the sort of thing that would wind up on the cutting room floor in a more conventional rural massacre film, seasons the whole enterprise with a knowing wit. Oh, this film has the same kind of slapstick gore of its nearest relatives. It has a grinder scene that compares well with Fargo or Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. But that scene is hardly the point of the movie. It's the small things that sell it.

Current Challenge tally:

Total Viewings: 16

First Time Viewings: 15

Around the Web:

Dr. AC has Nothing Left to Fear over at Horror 101, while continuing to stay ahead of the curve.

Anna at Bemused and Nonplussed is energized by the queerness of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.

Tim at The Other Side continues his run through Jean Rollin's vampire films with a look at Requiem for a Vampire.

Fascination with Fear looks at that most frightening of road trip horror movies, The Hitcher.

Behind the Couch is still fixated on Lovecraft this week, with a look at The Haunted Palace.

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