Now available on DVD
Devon Graye as Scott
Wes Chatham as Brian
C.J. Thomason as Chris
Tammin Sursok as Natalie
Ben Easter as Johnny
Directed by Brett Simmons
After Dark Films, previously best known for its independent horror film acquisitions released under the After Dark Horrorfest banner, has now ventured into producing its own slate of low-budget horror films called the After Dark Originals.
Heavily influenced by films like Frank De Felitta’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow and William Wesley’s Scarecrows, Husk is one of the first releases in this new line-up.
As the film opens, a group of college aged kids are travelling down a country road bordered by a tall corn field when several crows smash into their windshield, forcing them to crash. Knocked unconscious, the passengers awaken to find one of their group missing. The search leads the stranded passengers through the dense field of corn to a nearby farmhouse where they find themselves thrown into a cycle of death and reanimation as lethal scarecrows.
Husk presents a situation where screenwriter/director Brett Simmons, making a feature version of his 2005 short film of the same name, puts himself in an uphill battle from the very beginning. If a rural massacre horror film starts very conventionally with a group of unremarkable people that don’t provide any real character interest, the only real chance the film has of working is if the nightmarish situation they fall into is fresh and unique. Perfect examples of films in the subgenre that are able to pull this off are the original Tobe Hooper The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes. What makes both of those films classics? Not the rich, complex lead characters, that’s for sure.
While its more successful backwoods cousins successfully create and maintain their own unique vision of a small patch of Hell on Earth, Husk doesn’t even come close.
The film feels very disjointed and the rules of the supernatural world it tries to create are very confusing, including scenes of undead zombie-like scarecrows appearing to be killed by gunshots and conventional weapon blows to the body. Or have they been killed? You won’t be sure either and you’ll be questioning whether the filmmakers themselves know or not.
Adding to the frustrating “what exactly is going on?” nature of the film are several sequences of flashback exposition presented in out-of-the-blue Dead Zone-like visions experienced by one of the characters.
The film also deals itself another damaging blow by routinely jettisoning logic in favor of setting up telegraphed jump scares. In addition to being pointless and irritating for the viewer, this clichÃ© approach undercuts attempts at creating true suspense. For example, a final climactic attempt by the last two surviving characters to get past the scarecrows, through the corn field and back to the road should be a nail-biting sequence. It isn’t.
The ending of the film seems a little abrupt but by that point in the bewildering story, I challenge you to care.
As any Dario Argento/Lucio Fulci/Italian horror film fan can attest, there are some horror films that can at least partially overcome story problems and lapses in logic with elaborate, highly memorable murder sequences. Husk, with its rather routine kills, has none of these potentially redeeming graces and the overall end result is, quite frankly, a mess.
In providing a production and distribution source for original low-budget horror films, After Dark Films is doing something very important for the American horror genre scene, but if the screenplays aren’t ready, it’s going to be incredibly difficult if not impossible to get quality results.
That said, I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the After Dark Originals slate to see what the other filmmakers brought to the table.