What do you get if you cross The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with the Foster’s Lager advert?
Charlie’s Farm might on paper look like a pretty standard slasher of the kind you’d find Tobe Hooper or Wes Craven churning out in the 1970s, but what distinguishes it from the likes of The Hills Have Eyes is its Australian sensibility. The grim tone of recent American horrors is here replaced by the breezy atmosphere of antipodean filmmaking, and makes for a refreshing angle on a familiar subject.
Looking for an alternative to yet another day spent at the beach, four friends embark upon a journey to the eponymous Charlie’s Farm, where – as we discover in flashback – the infamous Wilson family met their end at the hands of an angry mob some three decades previously. Legend has it that their son Charlie survived the slaughter, and is responsible for the recent disappearances of several backpackers in the area. Ignoring a number of warnings to steer clear, the four friends soon discover not just the farm itself but also its deadly occupant...
Director Chris Sun’s screenplay doesn’t avoid the genre’s clichés, and while it doesn’t make more than a passing nod at a postmodern deconstruction of those devices either, the upbeat characters and sun-drenched locations lend them an air of novelty, with an artlessness that propels the film along cheerily for its first two acts. A number of thoughtful touches help immensely, one example being the argument that resolves with the friends being given directions to the farm (an unexpectedly amusing twist after the generic “Nowt for the likes of you” scene it follows), while the introduction of two new characters towards the end allows for the consequences of the characters’ expedition to be felt before they are in any immediate danger.
Where Charlie’s Farm stands or falls is in its final third, and once the murders begin the film doesn’t disappoint – with one character in particular learning that if you live by the metaphorical sword, then you’ll die by it too. Tara Reid as the token American makes for a convincing sceptic among the guileless optimists, and the photography has a tendency to wander into cutaways of road kill, in a foreshadowing reminiscent of the heritage it shares with Long Weekend and Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Sacrificing tension for affable geniality and substituting butt-clenching black humour for wholesale terror, Charlie’s Farm is the perfect antidote to some of the bleaker movies that tend to originate in the west. It isn’t as knowing as Scream or as funny as Final Destination, but it hits many of the same spots and the last twenty minutes more than make up for any earlier shortcomings. Terrific fun.
INFO: CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHRIS SUN / STARRING: TARA REID, NATHAN JONES, BILL MOSELEY, KANE HODDER, ALLIRA JAQUES / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 22ND