FEBRUARY 20, 2013
A while back I made the point that the reason you don't see too many Thanksgiving based horror movies is because that's a more family-centric holiday, and not prone to early parties (with friends) like some other holidays - a group of friends is fine, but no one wants to see a whole family get hacked up or terrorized. So when I DO see one of those family-based horror films, even if they're hitting the beats of every other movie in its respective sub-genre, I'm automatically a bit more interested. Such is the case with Axed, an imperfect film to be sure, but one that takes the ballsy approach of centering the entire thing on a four person family where the patriarch has gone insane.
After losing his job, a guy named Kurt takes his wife and two teenaged children on a surprise holiday, letting the kids skip school and forcing the wife to call in sick as they drive out to the countryside to a secret location. Of course, his intentions aren't so noble, and despite his attempts to pretend that everything was fine and he was trying to make up for lost time, he's actually brought them there to terrorize them along with his now ex-boss, who he believes was sleeping with his wife. Now, we know the boss is a goner, but what makes the film work is the possibility that he may actually go through with it and kill his own children. I didn't doubt for a second that he would, especially once it's revealed that he has non-fatherly designs on his daughter (he buys her crotchless panties as a "gift"), and thus I remained engaged until the end. Ordinarily they would toss in some other characters to provide the body count while avoiding the taboo of a guy killing his own son or whatever, but Axed only does that once and gets it over with quick, and (SPOILER) he does kill one of his own with plenty of runtime left, enhancing the suspense since he seems to hate everyone equally.
It's also got a nice, very dark sense of humor, which also kept me entertained and helped smooth over a few of its rough spots. Dad's got some nasty replies to their "dumb" questions, and I actually applauded when he explained his motives for wanting to kill them when (SPOILER) he revealed he was going to kill himself as well. And I liked that the teenaged children got along pretty well, offering little jabs at their overbearing father when he's out of earshot in a "misery loves company" kind of way - it's endearing. I never got a handle on the mom though; while the teens had their own teenager problems, her faults were mainly due to her just being kind of a bad person as well, and thus I didn't get to warm as much to her as I did the children.
Otherwise, the only problem was a bit more damaging - Dad's an asshole from the second we meet him, which makes his "Hey let's go have fun!" act completely transparent to us (though his family buys it), killing some of the suspense over his true plans. We see him freak out at the office, treat his family like shit at breakfast, and ten suddenly on the drive to school he starts acting like Clark Griswold. And it keeps going - they arrive, and he's got flowers for the wife and dinner planned and wants to go on a hike, etc, etc - and the whole time I'm sitting there wondering why they're falling for it. Perhaps leaving the work stuff as a flashback and working the breakfast table scene's points into the narrative once they've arrived would have helped matters? I felt there was like a 20 minute section of the film where I was too far ahead of the protagonists, which stings when there's only three of them (only six people appear in the entire movie).
Being a micro-budgeted independent film, it's hardly the best looking movie in the world, but I've seen worse, and director Ryan Driscoll (who also wrote and produced) thankfully keeps his camera locked off and doesn't try to get too flashy - digital look aside, it's very old-school and for that I am thankful (I think I'm still experiencing motion sickness from I Am The Ripper), and likewise he uses real fake blood for the most part - I think I caught one digital splatter but otherwise it's the good stuff, and most characters are covered in it by the end. And it means nothing but I liked the end credits, set over gray, overcast British landscapes, fitting the film nicely. He might want to consider a co-writer on future projects, but he's got the chops on the visual side of things.
The film is being released via a new series called Fangoria Presents, which will have a new title about once a month and be available on DVD and through OnDemand services. The retail releases will include a mini-issue of the magazine featuring interviews with the folks behind a few of the titles (Driscoll is interviewed for Axed, for example), as well as comic style art and packaging that encourages collecting them all (they're numbered - this is Vol 1, No 02 as Inhuman Resources came first - I'll be watching it soon!). The art is pretty eye catching and will definitely stick out in a sea of horror movie covers featuring a girl being dragged along the ground, and I think the mini-mag is a great idea (though I wish it was dedicated to that particular movie). The official site for the titles is HERE - so try to keep an eye out for the next releases. With the After Dark Horrorfest and Ghost House Underground series seemingly over and done with, I'm glad Fango (whose "Frightfest" series offered one of the best crop of titles) is keeping the tradition alive, not to mention bringing foreign flicks to the States - Axed is British, Resources is from Australia, and the next title (Sin Reaper) is a German production. Viva la foreign!
What say you?