MADISON COUNTY (2011)
Madison County’s biggest flaw as a horror film is not what it does, but what it doesn’t do. And that is deviate at all from the backwoods horror sub-genre formula in any way. The movie closely follows the cliché blueprint of getting five attractive twenty-somethings to a secluded rural area where they can be placed in proximity with the traditional deranged locals. In this case they are going to research a book about a serial killer who may, or may not, exist in secluded, rustic Madison County…and it’s no secret that they don’t like what their research turns up.
Director/writer Eric England seems to have seen enough of these films to put one together very competently on a technical level. There is some nice production value for a flick reportedly made for around $70,000. The visuals are fine and creepy and he does create some nice atmosphere and some tension. His cast of young attractive characters… Joanna Sotomura as Brooke, Colley Bailey as James, Matt Mercer as Will, Ace Marrero as Kyle and Natalie Scheetz as Jenna…are likable enough and there is some blood splattered on them once things get going. But England follows the formula so closely that there aren’t many surprises. You know the locals are suspicious and strange for a reason and that there really is no question as to whether the killer really exists. His leads, while likable, are not overly interesting or especially endearing and we should care about them a bit more. The locals are generic creepy hillbillies and the villains are never given enough screen time to build their characters and thus aren’t that frightening. They never rise above the cliché evil redneck stereotype and we just can’t generate enough interest in them to make them stand out as memorable villains. Even the pig-masked killer, Damien Ewell (Nick Principe), that is the main nut job, is very ho-hum, even when on the attack. It’s as if England thought a pig mask was enough to create character and menace. It’s creepy, but not character building. And, as far as these films go, Madison County is bit too tame. In this case a little over the top would have been welcome as nothing grabs us, shocks us or horrifies us. There is blood, but it is basically some routine stabbings and ax wounds. And since we’ve waited till the last act to get to the good stuff, we feel a bit cheated by what little we get and how soon it’s over. (With credits, Madison County is barely over 80 minutes.) If you are going to present a classic scenario like this, shake things up a bit (ex. Cabin In The Woods). Or at the very least, throw all the classic elements at us with a bit of good old fashioned ferocity and some over the top blood spurting. Just look at the generic but really fun Wrong Turn, nothing new, but it had some real intensity and a bit of a sick sense of humor to boot. This film could have used a bit more gusto like that one. The potential was there.
While for a horror flick, Madison County may be a bit too laid back, I did still enjoy it to a decent degree. I don’t think Eric England is a bad filmmaker at all. He can create tension and atmosphere and I’ve certainly seen far, far worse then Madison County, but he needs to learn that innovation is far more effective then imitation when it comes to the horror movies he obviously enjoys. And if you can’t innovate, throw some blood and carnage in our faces to keep us awake, present the traditional elements with some real enthusiasm and let us have a good time with it. Madison County is still a mildly enjoyable horror, but I think England has the potential to deliver much more. He has a few more films now under his belt, including the flick Contracted, which I heard good things about, and hope to catch up to shortly. We’ll see.
UPDATE: I caught up with Contracted and you can click on the title to see what I thought!
3 chainsaws… I have a soft spot for these kind of flicks and England does make a good effort.