Sunday 14 April 2013

Inbred (2011)

Director: Alex Chandon
Stars: Jo Hartley, James Doherty and Seamus O'Neill
This film was an official selection at Phoenix FearCon V in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
Inbred was an easy pick for Jim and Chris McLennan to headline FearCon V and it had nothing to do with producer/director Alex Chandon being a friend who attended their wedding. It's a British film, thus cementing their already impressive international reach; three of the four features and six of the ten short films that they screened in 2012 came from foreign shores. It's capably done, Chandon hardly a new kid on this block, and it contains much that's memorable. It also highlights a different horror angle than the other features shown, as each belongs to a different sub-genre; this one is a gory effects film, following a thriller, a documentary and a dark snuff comedy. It has most in common with the first feature, The Holding; these bookends were both made in the UK (as were Jim and I), they're set in rural areas of northern England and they serve as a British response to earlier iconic pictures made by others. Other than that, they couldn't be more different.

The Holding is a British response to The Stepfather; Inbred to gory backwoods American films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes, as well as earlier British responses such as Eden Lake, which shares an actor, James Burrows. The Holding is set in the Peak District, centered around the holding of the title; Inbred is set on the North York Moors, outside of Thirsk, where co-writer Paul Shrimpton lives. Incidentally, both the film's writers have connections to short films shown at the previous FearFest in 2010; Shrimpton directed Teleportal, while Chandon did effects work on Neon Killer. Those similarities aside, they're very different films. The Holding has a lot of depth in its approach, which is told from a notably feminist perspective; Inbred doesn't give a monkey's about depth. The Holding gets brutal on occasion, through violence, but it relies on a tense atmosphere; Inbred gets brutal as often as it can, through able use of gore effects.

What's more, Inbred is a comedy, though it doesn't play particularly for laughs and those that it finds are dark indeed, as befits an influence from the cult sketch show The League of Gentlemen. Gore effects aside, which are a Chandon specialty, it's the black humour and local flavour that is most successful. Derek Adamson, mayor of Thirsk, objected to the picture, saying that, 'We don't want that sort of publicity... it's quite probable that people will think the characters in the film are like real Thirsk people and that is not a good impression.' Chandon responded that this gift of free publicity was 'integral to the whole Inbred machine'. In truth, the characters are surprisingly good. Yes, the locals we meet are clearly extrapolated into overdone horror conventions and the script is happy to embrace stereotypes, including an actual ferret down the trousers scene, but they're well rooted in Yorkshire reality and surreality, and I ought to know, given that I grew up there.
Before we get to the fictional Yorkshire village of Mortlake where everything goes down, we meet the outsiders who will stir up an inevitably horrible response from the locals. Almost to underline how alien they are to rural Yorkshire life, they show up as a six pack: two social workers and the four juvenile delinquents that they're responsible for. The goal is for them to spend a weekend at the inevitably large and derelict Ravenswood Cottage and find a way to work together as a team. They do surprisingly well, though of course they're forced to for the most part by circumstances. This is a horror movie, after all. They're a stereotypical bunch of kids, led by a stereotypical pair of care workers, but all six of them are well portrayed by the actors, and manage on occasion to get past the stereotypical and add a little bit of depth. Given that depth is hardly the goal of the film, it's notable that the actors do manage to add a little bit here and there.

Jeff is in charge; he's the stereotypical social worker who wants to be everyone's friend and see everything in a positive light. 'A little ramshackle,' is how he describes Ravenswood, when they're all bitching about the damage and the dust. Kate is a little more in touch, both with the kids and reality. Much of what she achieves is through her not being Jeff. 'Rules are meant to be broken,' she tells him, though he has difficulty understanding the concept. The most obvious of their four charges is Dwight, the stereotypical obnoxious loudmouth. 'Is he always such a prick?' Kate asks. 'Yep,' says Jeff, and Dwight goes on to prove it. Zeb is his black sidekick, who plays along with him as Dwight Lite. Sam is the girl who doesn't talk much, but builds a connection with skinhead Tim, a pyro who tried to burn down his school. These kids share a mistrust of authority, but there's little attempt made to build a theme around their lack of connection to society.

There's much more attempt to build character into the village of Mortlake and I wonder how close Shrimpton based some of his observations. As with all Yorkshire villages, this one is centered on a local pub, the Dirty Hole, built in 1582 and feeling all too true to life as a dark place full of locals playing dominoes. There's no food. 'We don't cater to that crowd,' says Jim, the landlord, who is a treat of a character for Seamus O'Neill, a Yorkshireman himself who has just the right tone. When he tells Kate, 'We don't serve Coke, miss,' it sounds just like the old classic, 'You ain't from around here, are you?' that begins so many westerns. Here's where we start to feel the meaning of the title, as Sam gets hassled by an apparent retard with a love for carrots. He's Gris, Jim's son, and while we were given hints through gaps in the hedges on the way into town, it's Gris who soon sparks the touchpaper to the plot in an intriguing graveyard where train carriages go to die.
Thus far it's been a little slow and a little boring, but that's mostly due to the story, which aims for a slow build. There's some character development, but there isn't a character here who isn't easily delineated and whose behaviour isn't easily predicted. It's hard to fault the actors as every one of their performances is solid, however unstretched they may have been. They all get their moments but most obvious early on is Dwight, the sort of complete and utter prick of a kid that everyone wishes they didn't have to deal with but probably does. Chris Waller doesn't bring anything new at all to the role but he's really good at it nonetheless and the same goes for all the other kids and their care workers. I've known people like every single one of them, more's the pity. Once we get to the Dirty Hole though, O'Neill effortlessly takes over as Jim, stamping his authority on this film just as emphatically as Jim stamps his authority on the village of Mortlake.

Once things get serious, as we know they surely will, O'Neill adds a surreal second role. He's still playing Jim, but he's playing Jim in blackface and hosting a twisted set of variety performances in a barn. It's clearly rooted in music hall, but music hall was never quite like this. The audience are terrible, a stereotypical set of inbred retards cracking rocks together, and the naked organist is a blatant steal from Monty Python's Flying Circus, but Jim is a priceless host and the performances he introduces are clear opportunities for Chandon's effects folk to provide innovative gore shots and for Shrimpton to neatly subvert the down to earth Yorkshire mindset into something horrific. These folk don't just call a spade a bloody shovel, they have an innovative use for it to boot. How would you use a muckspreader as a horror prop? If your ideas are as outrageous as the ones put to use here, you should be making pictures with Alex Chandon.
There's stuff here from all the expected sources. Beyond the obvious influence of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, there's plenty that's lifted from Straw Dogs, The Wicker Man and Deliverance. Most of it is pointless borrowing, because it's the weirdness that works, the twisted inventiveness of the show in the barn and the inappropriateness of the betting scenes at the end. These scenes worked best for me because they're shown as entirely routine, nothing out of the ordinary or worthy of mention. The same goes for the use of characters apparently played by actors with real physical handicaps. Some critics have complained about this, suggesting that it's demeaning to have them play inbred hicks, but the point is that they're not treated differently from anyone else. They're simply members of this society, just like anyone else. If you're born in a Yorkshire village to a Yorkshire family, you're a Yorkshireman. Nobody cares about anything else.

Chandon clearly knows what he has here and has no pretensions of grandeur. He throws in a set of easily delineated characters to chip away at, but it's beyond obvious that he's never on their side. We don't need to know who survives until the end credits, we know from moment one that he's firmly on the side of the warped locals and he doesn't care how warped they get. In fact, the more warped the better, which works when they're solid characters like Jim but fails entirely when they have nothing to do except leer at the outsiders or wave a chainsaw about. It's an irony that every major actor in this film gives a good showing, but the people who made it don't care about any of their characters, just Jim, the one who makes it possible for this film to happen. I enjoyed Inbred twice, because of the dark humour and inventiveness, but I doubt I'll come back to it again because there's no heart below the gore to give it any deeper value.


Seamus O'Neill said...

Fantastic Review and thanks. Just for info, I live in Yorkshire, but I'm not a Yorkshireman. 2nd Generation Irish, with a very Standard English Accent. I would challenge the world though, to speak and accent or Language that I cannot replicate with the precision of an African Grey with a Degree. Cheers. ps. I'm a reasonably adept Actor as well of course, though that simply ain't earnin' me diddly squat. All the best Sir.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Thanks, Seamus.

Yeah, Seamus O'Neill isn't the most Yorkshire name I've ever heard, but IMDb lists as you as being born in Richmond. That ought to count for something. You're an honorary tyke.