Legend has it that, far beyond the town of Mitchell, some 600km inland from Queensland’s coastline, an abandoned homestead – once the scene of unspeakable depravities – is now supposedly haunted. Which makes Charlie’s Farm, as the place is known, a magnet for horror-happy backpackers willing to go way off the beaten track in pursuit of creepy vibes and maybe the odd grisly souvenir.
Not that any similarly horror-happy viewers along for the ride are straying so far from genre’s main road. For much as the legend of the farm’s murderous former occupants, the Wilson family, goes back to the Eighties, Chris Sun’s Charlie’s Farm harks back to the horror subgenre most closely associated with that decade: the slasher. And what it lacks in real innovation, it makes up for with its knowing allusions to the many films that have inspired it. For this whole movie is just one big Easter egg for gorehounds.
Exhibit A is the Wilson family, seen in a series of speculative flashbacks, whose late American patriarch John is played by Bill Moseley, essentially recombining his roles from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and The House of 1000 Corpses (2003) as he rapes, kills and butchers his victims for the family’s favourite spare-ribs dinner – while his ‘retard’ son Charlie grows up to be a scoliotic hulk played by strongman Nathan Jones (Rictus Erectus in Mad Max: Fury Road). If this deformed, speechless giant of the outback, with his oversized machete and his mineshaft cubbyhole, seems half Jason Voorhees and half Wolf Creek‘s Mick Taylor, then it is hardly a coincidence that the film’s two hapless male leads are actually called Jason (Dean Kirkright) and Mick (Sam Coward) – although the latter is nicknamed ‘Donkey’ because of his well-proportioned manhood. When, near the film’s beginning, Jason says of his friend, “He can nearly put that thing in his own mouth,” he is, although he may not realise it, grimly foreshadowing his friend’s eventual, emasculating demise.
Along for the ride – and vying for final girl status – are Jason’s American wife Natasha (American Pie alumnus Tara Reid) and Mick’s potential love interest Melanie (Allira Jaques, from Sun’s previous Daddy’s Little Girl and Come And Get Me), who are both far too dim-witted to get the viewer behind them. Melanie is so out of touch with the genre in which she finds herself that has never even heard of Charlie’s namesake Charles Manson, leading Natasha to explain, with not dissimilar daftness, “He’s the biggest serial killer in the world.” Needless to say, they are soon to meet one who is a lot bigger – in every sense of the word.
These four campers spend the first two acts of the film just going through the genre motions: travelling in breezy montage to the middle of nowhere, failing to heed warning from unfriendly locals along the way, telling the Wilsons’ urban (or, more strictly, ‘rural’) legend around a campfire, exploring the farm, pairing up, etc. Given that the film’s opening sequence has already unequivocally confirmed that something terrible is waiting at the farm, the travellers’ endless discussion of what truth might lie behind the legend of Charlie’s Farm just seems like pointless filler. It would be more excusable if the dialogue were less meandering, repetitive and unengaging, and if something would actually happen in these scenes to live up to the ominous (and entirely clichéd) cutaway images of insects trapped by spiders. Even the late arrival of two additional grief tourists, Alyssa and Gordon (Genna Chanelle Hayes, David Beamish), hardly brings variety to all the flat characterisation – although it does hold out the promise of a higher body count. This material feels very stretched, with only the open Australian landscapes, the Moseley-manic flashbacks, and a peppering of references to Deliverance, Razorback (Sun’s next film is to be the razorback-riffing Boar), The Blair Witch Project and (of course) Crocodile Dundee, to break the monotony.
“It would be better if we saw something,” complains a disappointed Gordon, “We did come eight hours out of our way.” By this point, viewers too will be itching for spectacle as a return on their time invested – so the eventual emergence from hiding of mutilating man-child Charlie finally gives everyone more or less what they want. Here at last the film finds its bloody level, and delivers a series of murder set-pieces that are head-crushingly, cock-choppily graphic enough to get the viewer’s (and one unfortunate victim’s) jaw dropping. This is also the point at which Charlie’s Farm pays off in its postmodern play. For as boxing champion Tony (Kane Hodder, who played Voorhees in Jason X, as well as mythic axeman Victor Crowley in the Hatchet trilogy) barges in looking for his friend Jason, only to be confronted instead by Jones’ Jason-like unstoppable slaughter king, Sun creates a horror hall of mirrors where there are too many Jasons, and only one can be left standing.
Legends never die – but despite some inventive grand guignol in the eleventh hour, the swathe that Charlie cuts through moribund slasher tropes is not nearly original enough to warrant a sequel.
Anton Bitel (@AntBit)
CHARLIE’S FARM is released in the UK on June 22