DVD Review: Killer Scarecrows in ‘Husk’

Husk (2011)
Distributor: After Dark Originals
DVD Release Date: 21st March 2011 (UK), 29 March 2011 (USA)
Directed by: Brett Simmons
Starring: Devon Graye, Wes Chatham, C J Thomason, Tammin Sursok
Review by: Ben Bussey

Scarecrows; surely one of the most powerful, yet astonishingly underused boogie men in horror film history. In many respects they’re not too different from mummies, but scarecrows don’t lie in sarcophagi deep inside pyramids thousands of miles away, or tucked away in dusty old museums; they’re out there in the fields for all to see, considerably more tangible, considerably closer to home. They’re lifesize and seemingly lifeless, but who knows what lies behind those expressionless sack faces? It really is remarkable that more filmmakers haven’t taken advantage of the inherent iconic power that scarecrows have. Happily, Brett Simmons recognised the gap in the market and moved in with this tale of cornfield carnage. Less happily, he didn’t approach it in the most interesting or creative fashion possible.

It’s not too surprising to learn that Husk is a feature length remake of a short film Simmons made back in 2005, as the core premise, while good, feels very thinly spread. It all kicks off somewhere between Children of the Corn and Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as a carload of college kids – on their way to the hedonistic vacation they’ve been planning all year, of course – are making their way down an empty, seemingly endless road with seemingly endless fields of corn on either side. Taken unawares by the local wildlife, they swerve and crash; and when they come to, one of their number is missing. The standard debates ensue: maybe he went to get help, maybe they should wait or him to come back; maybe he’s hurt, maybe they should go look for him. But soon enough circumstance leads them all into the corn, within which they soon locate a ramshackle house and,yes,some rather lifelike scarecrows. But surely the house is deserted, and surely the scarecrows are just scarecrows… right?

As you might have gathered, it’s hardly the most groundbreaking setup. It doesn’t help matters that it’s also really bog-standard aesthetically. Husk very much follows the cosmetic conventions of the more mainstream end of contemporary horror; the glossy cinematography and shock-horror score could have been lifted directly from any Platinum Dunes film. Subsequently, the film has such a feeling of “been-there, done-that” that all efforts to do something new and unique seem doomed to fail.

This is a real shame, as it’s not as if such efforts have not been made. It is apparent that writer/director and cast have put a great deal more work into giving their characters depth than tends to be the case. Whilst the group could certainly be broken down into archetypes – jock, nerd, cool guy etc. – the film is not content to leave them as such (unlike, say, the recent disappointment Altitude). This is a far more likeable ensemble than we usually see in movies of this ilk, whose actions and dialogue do not make you wish immediate horrible death upon all of them (once more, unlike Altitude). And while there is of course no question that most if not all of them will indeed meet a horrible end, the order in which they meet that end does defy expectation to an extent.

Even so, whilst killer scarecrows are a sad rarity and three-dimensional protagonists even more so, most if not all of that goodwill is killed by the stale, obvious stylistic approach taken by Simmons as director. Husk had the potential to be something really special, and that only makes it hurt more to see it fall short. Yes, we need more scarecrow movies, but better ones than this would be appreciated.

 

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