“I can run! Trust me, I’ve been running from things my whole life!”
After reading other reviews of co-writer and director Glenn Douglas Packard’s slasher flick, Pitchfork, I’m certain that these critics have either A) Not seen the film, B) Only seen five minutes of it, or C) Judged it solely from the trailer (I’m looking at you LA Times). Be weary in reading reviews of this film; I am positive that many, if not most, fall into one of these categories. Critics claim the film is a mere carbon copy of horrors past but have blatant inaccuracies in their plot summaries.
Pitchfork, co-written with Darryl F. Gariglio, does serve as a subtle homage to the genre, with camera and character elements borrowed from classics like Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Friday the 13th, but is far from a copy. Garglio and Packard have undoubtedly crafted something worthwhile (minus the confusing combination of well-done choreo and a feral, one-handed killer). Packard’s impressive, Emmy-worthy background in dance and choreography should stay just that: background. The cinematography and plotline are refreshing and have a healthy diversion and alignment with other films in the genre. The characters’ dialogue is kitschy but in the best way (“Take two Tylenol and call me in the morning, motherf****er”). The tagline of the film, “every generation has its monster,” sets the bar high – maybe a little too high – but overall, Pitchfork was entertaining and disturbing; I can only see Packard getting better from here.
The story opens with Michigan-born Hunter (Brian Raetz) and his clique of friends from NYC, who venture out to the country to accompany Hunter on his first time home to his family farm since coming out to his parents and sister. The van they arrive in is decked out in rainbows and phrases like “honk if you’re horny” scribbled on the side of the door. Once they arrive at the Hunter family farm, there is some animosity between father and son, but nothing extreme. The friends often stand in an obviously posed grouping and seem like they are going to burst into dance…and then they do. The friends have a “coming home party” in the barn with a dance number complete with synchronized choreo. After the party, the friends separate to wreak a little stupid, sexed-up havoc on the farm (sex in the barn for some and cow-tipping for others). Then the film really begins. A deranged killer with a pitchfork for a hand and a dog hide mask (Daniel Wilkinson), credited ‘Pitchfork,’ picks off characters one by one (or two by two).
Surprisingly, Wilkinson is the most sympathetic character (it could have something to do with him being attractive). He has no lines throughout and often would only speak to Packard when on set, and in a child’s voice (creepy). His appearance is mysterious and his character seems to have a regressed child-like understanding of his actions. This saves the social lag that occurs throughout the film with the other characters. What do I mean? Well, have you ever played the computer game The Sims? In the game, the characters can only complete one social interaction at a time; similarly, in the film the dialogue has a constant start-stop that could be alleviated by more natural flow of acting. Later in the film, viewers have the privilege of meeting Pitchfork’s parents (Rachel Carter and Andrew Dawe-Colllins). Carter and Dawe-Collins have the crazy, “abusively ‘loving’ parent” down pat. They both give an eerily good performance and it leaves viewers completely understanding as to why this kid in a dog mask has been slaughtering people yet cannot even speak.
The opening shot of the film, aside from a sad, run of the mill “dog chasing a sound and not coming back” scene, is a continuous drone shot over an extremely vast cornfield with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” being sung at low tempo in the background. These low and continuous shots, including a few time lapses, are intentionally set and artistically done. The low shots continue throughout the film and harken to Pitchfork’s love of crawling on all fours. The beginning of the film feels like a backwards Beatles’ music video, saturated and joyous and then gradually switching to darkness and earth tones with single-source lighting. The hazy, smoky wood scenes are sinister and foreboding.
Packard’s thematic intentions can be picked up on by viewers with little effort, but he doesn’t exactly give away the entire story. Anytime Pitchfork makes a kill, the kill shot is always hidden slightly off-camera – poor budget or gunning for psychological horror? With more work on dialogue, Packard can easily succeed in his dreams of directing – he has a pretty interesting bio. The film’s ending and story leave room for a sequel. I’ll be waiting for it.