With its scenic English setting, writer/director Charlie Steeds’ Escape from Cannibal Farm might read as folk-horror, but with a focus on feuding families and isolated country-dwellers, it ultimately feels far more American in its sensibilities. Imagine The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but with the bleakness of British films like Eden Lake.
The story concerns the Harver family who embark on a trip to the middle of nowhere for a camping holiday. Family tensions run high as Jessica (Kate Marie Davies) introduces her mother and siblings to her boyfriend, Kurt (Joe Street), whilst everybody clashes with Wesley (Toby Wynn-Davies), the mother’s new overbearing and controlling pantomime-level villain of a partner.
During their first night in the country, they’re assaulted by an unknown entity who sets their tent on fire. This prompts them to seek help at a nearby farm where they’re attacked, caged and informed that they’ll be harvested for meat.
The film does an admirable job of handling an obviously low budget. It’s consistently professional with surprisingly nice and frequently inventive visuals. The only real giveaway as to the lack of funds is the quality of acting. The cast range from passable to awful.
The primary antagonist, Hunt Hansen, is portrayed by Barrington De La Roche who, to be fair, certainly looks the part. He gives a great performance in the film’s opening scene set to music and featuring no dialogue. Sadly, he doesn’t do so well once he opens his mouth to deliver not only speech, but a number of extended monologues. It’s a shame because a truly captivating performance in this role would have significantly elevated the film. Horror films tend to live and die on the quality of their villain, after all.
Peter Cosgrove portrays another of the bad guys and, in doing so, inexplicably adopts the voice of Papa Lazarou from The League of Gentlemen. Truly, vocal work is not this film’s forte, but thankfully the majority of the other villains are of the mute-man-with-a-chainsaw variety so it works.
The cast portraying the family are a lot better. They often struggle to sell the “witty banter” in the script, but they’re good enough that you’re able to empathise with them once they start getting killed, which is all a film like this really needs.
Some iffy dialogue aside, there are some nice moments of characterisation and gags dotted around and the whole piece is solidly structured and well thought-through. It also deserves a special shout-out for managing to remove the characters’ mobile phones from the equation in a way that feels completely organic.
For all of its flaws, the film is a legitimately engaging horror thriller with some genuine tension. You’ll certainly find yourself rooting for the characters to escape. Low-budget, derivative British horror movies are ten-a-penny but this one manages to stand above the crowd; largely thanks to its most striking element which is how much care and effort seems to have been put into making it.
ESCAPE FROM CANNIBAL FARM / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHARLIE STEEDS / STARRING: KATE DAVIES-SPEAK, BARRINGTON DE LA ROCHE, JOE STREET, TOBY WYNN-DAVIES, PETER COSGROVE / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 26TH