CERT: UNRATED / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHARLIE STEEDS / STARRING: DAVID LENIK, ROWENA BENTLEY, JOHN LOMAS, KATE DAVIES-SPEAK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (VOD)
Winterskin, the latest film from writer / director Charlie Steeds, follows up the grassroots filmmaker’s CV of low-budget genre offerings with a surprisingly chilling fifth feature film. Fusing the likes of Stephen King’s Misery with a home invasion / monster movie slant, Winterskin is a snowy nightmare built to toy with the audience’s expectations.
While out walking with his father in a freezing forest, Billy Cavanagh (David Lenik) stumbles upon an isolated cabin and is shot by the owner. Waking up days later with a wounded leg, he finds himself the guest of old lady Agnes (played to perfection by Rowena Bentley), an eccentric shut-in with no radio. As he waits for his father to find him, he becomes more and more concerned by Agnes and her habit of falling asleep by the front door, rifle in hand.
Of course there’s more up the film’s sleeve, but we wouldn’t want to ruin anything. Suffice to say, Steed’s story is an intriguing one which twists through a few different ideas before settling on something pretty fun. There’s a touch of Misery to the “trapped in a cabin with a potentially dangerous woman” scenario, but Steeds doesn’t rest on a hammy rehash. Agnes’ story, that every night something wanders the outside of the cabin, then returns to the woods leaving a trail of crimson footprints, is genuinely eerie. The ham can’t stop a good chill, because Steed can do scary just as well as schlock.
And make no mistake, there’s schlock to Steed’s latest. There's an intense quadruple murder in the opening scenes, and the gore is OTT. Even in a scene where two kids get murdered, the nastiness comes across more schlock than nihilistic. Gunshots and knife wounds result in the kind of huge splatter marks recent Tarantino would be proud of. The near-daft characterisation of Agnes is carried off by Bentley in a way which shouldn’t work, but it really does.
With an aptitude for making decent genre products on a small budget, Steeds has impressively released five films in four years. Though none of them have quite showcased a fully rounded talent, Winterskin is Steeds' most impressive film to date. A small story with a small cast, Steeds has turned up the eeriness, but his natural tastes for big gore and hammy but lovable casts make the film feel right at home on an all-night horror marathon roster. Steeds’ snow-bound thriller is an adept piece of horror and sometime schlock, there’s a nice balance of camp and creepy but the stars of the show are Rowena Bentley’s Agnes and Kate Griffiths’ special FX makeup. With trajectory like this, we can’t wait to see where he goes next.