– By Allan Lear
Once upon a time, people knew how things worked. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, rural and semirural communities were the norm rather than the exception, and even skilled artisans would know how to grow their own food or would raise their own hens for eggs and slaughter. Even when the rise of the mills and factories jammed hundreds of thousands of people into a few square miles and the cities were really born, horses were still used for transportation; the working lives and deaths of animals were still commonplaces of the human experience. Pets, as family members, are cherished and revered; their deaths are tragedies rather than essential to their function.
So I suppose it was the internal combustion engine that truly built the gates around the conurbations. Once the necessity for animal power was removed from city life, the lives of the cities became hermetic and self-contained. Yes, city dwellers know that food and supplies enter the city from outside, having been mysteriously produced by the denizens of the elsewhere lands, but this knowledge is abstract and unreinforced by direct experience. That one’s beef comes from a cow is as unimaginably distant a datum as the fact that one’s iPhone was made in China.
Casual and anecdotal proofs of this proposition are easy to find. Every twenty seconds a tabloid paper will print a survey which finds that 3,284% of city-inhabiting primary schoolers believe that cheese grows on shrubs or that turkey is a kind of grape. Elderly folk of superior vintage, like my own good self, might remember that in the very first series of Channel Four’s perennial despair manufactory, Big Brother, the housemates were expected to slaughter their own chickens for food, and that by the outpouring of misplaced angst one might be forgiven for thinking they had been instructed to draw lots amongst themselves for first place on the barbecue.
There is, then, in a very real sense, a coddling of the majority of inhabitants of the postindustrial Western world in which we are shielded from the process of provision for our own needs; not because there is anything particular dark, evil or invidious about the process, but purely as a tangential matter arising from the supply chain mechanisms. That the origins of the process, which are perhaps a tad indelicate and graphic, are obscured to this majority is an artefact of the process, not an aim. Nevertheless, the effect is a disconnection between the reality of food supply and the consumer.
I wonder if this is why the rural setting is so frequently deployed in horror. If it were based on the average lives of the Westerner, Western horror would be almost exclusively films like Unfriended or Friend Request, where the murders take place up close and on webcam, but instead there are plenty of movies set in the rustic domain. Oh, there are practical concerns, of course, such as the relative isolation of a farmstead and the availability of rusted implements and pointed sticks, but there is also a primacy to the farm setting, an atavism that cities dispel. “There ain’t much to country living,” sang Warren Zevon, “Just sweat, piss, jizz and blood”. We don’t sweat in the suburbs. We don’t work with blood. We have people we pay to jizz for us.
Pitchfork is a film about facing the hard truth about oneself, and about how it doesn’t matter whether you do or not, because a nutter in half a head from the Build-a-Bear Workshop will stab you with his impractical fork-arm. It’s a film about the importance of friendship, and about how crazy people are evil. It’s a film, in short, about nothing at all.
A young New Yorker rejoicing in the improbable name of Hunter Killian (Brian Raetz) is going home to the farm he grew up on in order to come out to his parents. Requiring moral support in this challenging duty, he has brought with him a collection of his big city mates. Seven of them, in fact. This abundance, not to say superfluity, of citified teenagers is a double-edged sword for Pitchfork. On the one hand, the screen is overflowing with junior actors whose limited screentime enables them only to portray stereotypes; on the other, the process of murdering them all eats up most of the film’s runtime, which is the point of them. Each actor makes their mark in one way or another, some for better reasons than others. Nicole Dambro, for instance, can’t deliver lines very well but is an excellent corpse. That isn’t sarcasm; being dead, with your eyes open, while someone licks your face is a tricky prospect and she is very convincing. More convincing than Keith Webb, who acts well enough but, having taken the brave decision to be dead with eyes open for an extended shot, ruins it by visibly blinking partway through. Ryan Moore plays an obnoxious sporty type and is quite good, which is unfortunate because, as one of the better actors, he’s more likeable than his part calls for. Vibhu Raghave, as the gentle and unrequited Gordon, is just likeable full stop and well done to him. Lindsey Nicole, a graduate of the Emma Watson school of acting, is very believable until called upon to exhibit strong emotion. Addisyn Wallace, despite her stupid name, is actually pretty good as the lead’s younger sister and the girl who nearly tames Teddyface. Celina Beach exhibits a wonderful defensive camouflage that causes her skin to get noticeably whiter in times of danger.
Special mention in the acting stakes, however, must go to one Derek Reynolds. Reynolds plays Raetz’s homophobic farmer father and is a truly remarkable piece of stunt casting, being a) clearly no older than Raetz himself and b) totally incapable of portraying human behaviour on camera. He is listed as a “producer”, which makes sense. Bought a part. Whether because of his homophobia or his poor acting, I was greatly amused when he was killed off; having been extensively mangled by Teddyface, he appeals to Raetz to put him out of his misery, in response to which Raetz, in the least filial gesture since Romulus named Rome after his own self rather than the brother he murdered, stabs his dad in the stomach. Sadly the script does not allow a “what the fuck did you do that for?” moment for the departing Reynolds, but at least he is gone from our screens for the dénouement.
Raetz himself is good and holds the film together well, which is more than can be said for the plot. Although there is a “mystery” surrounding who Teddyface is and why he kills, it is never really investigated or solved; apparently mad people just do mad things, because they’re mad. This is the kind of deep human insight I could have got by reading a teatowel or The Sun, and a full-length feature film should really be aiming a bit higher.
There’s a rustic-Americana party sequence which is like a mix between a traditional barn dance and a 90s clubbing scene, and that works quite well. Perhaps someone will put that scene on YouTube, and then history can consign the rest of the film to the dustbin. Pitchfork is released on Friday 13 January, but even in January there are probably better things to be doing.