New York based performer Hunter has recently come out to his family in Michigan. Stereo-typically his mother and sister are accepting of his lifestyle, his hard-ass farmer father is, as you would expect, not that happy that he has a gay son. Hunters solution is pack his performer/dancer friends in a ridiculously appointed van and drive from NYC to rural Michigan to talk to his father...oh and have a barn dance. As you would expect, tensions are pretty high when Hunter and Co. arrive. Things get even dicier when masked killer Pitchfork starts offing Hunters pretty friends and his family. At least he waits until after the barn dance to begin the murdering though!
I joke about the barn dance, but as far as surprises in a dark horror film this one is right up there. As you would expect, former choreographer Packard puts together a sequence that makes Step Up look like Step Up 2 The Streets. It's a nice break in the building tension, and also serves to prove that Andy Grammer (Middletown, NY in the house!) will license the song in the WalMart commercial to anyone.
Barn dance based humor aside, Packard flirts with some serious issues in Pitchfork. Trump supporters will be pissed with...well just about everything in this film, but mostly the portrayal of Hunters father. Not to defend them but it is a bit heavy handed, we've seen that movie portrayal before and it feels tired. What is much more exciting to the seasoned horror viewer is Pitchfork himself. Packard goes to extended lengths to distance Pitchfork from other masked killers. Too may directors try to capture the Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers mystique. Instead, Packard drops his slasher right in the Tobe Hooper The Texas Chain Saw Massacre universe. Pitchfork, much like Leatherface, is a product of his environment. In the Nature v. Nurture battle, Pitchfork is firmly ensconced in the Nurture camp. Doing this allows Packard and co-writer Darryl F. Gariglio to explore some different shades of slashers, even eliciting some sympathy for their killer by the end of the film.
While Packard and Gariglio operate around the edges of the slasher film universe, some things unfortunately do slip through the cracks. Pitchfork (the film, not the killer) falls prey to a common mistake first time filmmaker make. It's their first film, they have a million ideas, and then they try to cram them all into one film. Whether it's because they don't know how to self edit, or because they are afraid they will never get to make a second film, all this does is muddy the waters.
That's exactly what happens in Pitchfork, whose biggest problems are balancing its tone - especially early in the film and its pace. The latter suffers from trying to cram way too much into the second and third acts. Pitchfork vacillates between slasher, horror/comedy, social commentary, and even dips it's toes into torture porn at one point. Because of this the film almost collapses under its own ambition. Packard does the best he can but perhaps a more experienced director would have been a little better at balancing everything in Pitchfork.
It seems I'm shitting pretty heavily all over the film, in truth Pitchfork is pretty damn good. Pacing issues aside, Packard succeeds in creating his own world. It feels uniquely his, something many first time directors struggle with. Also, other than a couple cringe worthy line reads early in the film, he gets really good performances out of a relatively inexperienced cast. A lot of performance can be made in editing, but with a project like Pitchfork, the driving force, in this case Packard, has some heavy lifting to do in terms of communicating his vision of the film, something he clearly did to his cast successfully.
Pitchfork has a bit of something for everyone. There are some plot heavy elements for those looking for more from their slasher than just the typical hack and slash film. The film has it's own unique sense of humor. It also is pretty liberal with the gore and blood as well. It's certainly not Cannibal Holocaust, but should satiate most gore hounds appetites. Best of all, Pitchfork looks awesome, Packard has a flair for the visual that helps coagulate the many disparate tendrils he floats into an effective film, one that should put him on the radar of every horror fan out there.
*** 1/2 stars out of *****
Pitchfork debuts on various VOD outlets and will even have a limited theatrical run early in January 2017 via our good friends at Uncork'd Entertainment. It's a film definitely worth checking out. Did I mention barn dance?
That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "Enjoy every sandwich."