31 Days of Halloween, Alex Chandon, backwoods folk, black comedies, British films, Chris Waller, cinema, city vs country, co-writers, Damien Lloyd-Davies, Deliverance, Derek Melling, Dominic Brunt, dysfunctional family, film reviews, films, gallows' humor, George Newton, horror, horror films, horror-comedies, Inbred, isolated communities, James Burrows, James Doherty, Jo Hartley, Movies, Nadine Mulkerrin, Neil Leiper, Paul Shrimpton, Peter Jackson, politically-incorrect humor, pubs, Seamus O'Neill, set in England, Terry Haywood, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, UK films, writer-director, youth group, youth in trouble
As a lifelong movie lover, I’ve seen plenty of films over the years that would seem to have universal appeal to just about anyone: I can’t, for example, understand how anyone wouldn’t love The Godfather (1972), 2001 (1968) or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)…the thought pretty much boggles my mind. As a horror fanatic, I’ve also seen plenty of films that would seem to be perfect for horror fans, even if more “discerning” film-goers might turn their noses (or stomachs) up at the fare: Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Descent (2005), Halloween (1978) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) should be part of any horror fan’s DNA, as far as I’m concerned, along with a host of others.
Sometimes, as I said, a film just seems to have universal appeal. On the other hand, there are those films that will really only ever appeal to a select group of folks: films that are too “out there,” violent, offensive or transgressive for the masses to ever fully digest. In some cases, these films can appeal to particularly narrow, niche markets: extreme torture films, mumble-core, splatter-core, art films, etc… Sometimes, however, a film just seems to want to push as many buttons as possible, using a scattergun approach to raising eyebrows: Peter Jackson’s ludicrously offensive Meet the Feebles (1989) is one such epic, as is Lucky McKee’s towering ode to the evils of misogyny, The Woman (2011). To this select group of offensive films, feel free to add Alex Chandon’s ugly-as-sin Inbred (2011), a film that promises to do for the backwoods of Great Britain the same thing that Deliverance (1972) did for the Ozarks. In case the name didn’t tip you off, Inbred knows no sacred cows: suffice to say, this is one film that absolutely will not appeal to everyone.
At the start, Inbred is framed as one of those films where well-meaning youth counselors take a group of troubled teens into the woods and try to get them to see the error of their ways. In this case, are troubled youth are motor-mouthed, shithead Dwight (Chris Waller), shy firebug Tim (James Burrows), jovial prankster Zeb (Terry Haywood) and token girl Sam (Nadine Mulkerrin). The well-meaning counselors take the form of stick-in-the-mud Jeff (James Doherty) and laid-back Kate (Jo Hartley), who sees compassion and friendship as the key to reaching the wayward kids.
The group ends up staying at some sort of (seemingly) abandoned structure and set about fixing the place up for their stay. As a reward for their hard work, Kate convinces Jeff to take them all into the nearby town so that they can visit the pub. As soon as the city-folk step into the dark environs of the pub, however, they realize just how out-of-place they are: not only do every one of the (decidedly) scuzzy patrons give them the stink eye, upon their entrance, but many of the drinkers appear to share pretty similar facial features…there are isolated, backwoods towns…and then, there’s this place. The barkeep, Jeff (Seamus O’Neill), seems normal and is very friendly, yet he acts strange when he finds out the group is staying at the dilapidated Ravenwood estate. As Jeff points out, the people in the town are all very friendly and nice…provided that you leave them alone and don’t bother them in the slightest, that is.
The trouble is, of course, that the group are true fish-out-of-water and have no idea about the locals very strange customs: as luck would have it, they end up disturbing a strange ritual that seems to involve burning animals and appear to incur the wrath of the locals. At this point, Jim’s formerly genial personality changes into something approaching terrifying insanity and the film becomes a siege picture, as the kids and their adult guardians do everything they can to stay alive. As the group will find out, however, there are much worse things than a quick death, especially when there’s a town full of inbred yokels to entertain. While the others make a desperate stand, Jim and his vicious son, Gris (Neil Leiper), prepare for one helluva performance, a show that will feature their new “guests” as star attractions.
We’ll just get this out of the way right off the bat: Inbred is an extremely unpleasant, graphic and all-around nasty piece of work. The townspeople, to a tee, are a filthy, strange and nearly animalistic lot and Jim is a truly terrifying figure of awe-inspiring bat-shittery: he spends most of the film parading around in blackface (the entire town is casually racist, as if it were the most natural thing in the world) and looks truly demonic by the finale, as his makeup runs in black streaks down his face. The “performances” are truly disturbing displays of inventive torture and, in at least one instance, are almost impossible to look at: I very rarely look away during horror films (this ain’t snuff, after all) but I was genuinely revolted by one particular scene and had very little interest in seeing it play to its logical conclusion. The violence and gore is sudden, extreme and very well-done: there are no punches pulled, especially during the climax, and there’s a visceral intensity to everything that makes it all seem that much more vivid.
But here’s the thing: Inbred works. It actually works spectacularly well, to be honest, finding a perfect synthesis between the humor and horror elements. The atmosphere in the film is thick and claustrophobic, making good use of some truly gorgeous cinematography, particularly during the film’s many wide shots of the beautiful countryside. The script is a good one, if very strange, with no concessions towards mass consumption whatsoever. Once the film switches from “creepy, sinister locals” to “full-on insane, blood-thirsty mob of locals,” the film ratchets the intensity up and never lets go.
Even better, however, is the fact that the filmmakers never take the obvious approach to anything: time and time again, hoary old genre clichés will pop up only to be bent, folded and manipulated into entirely new forms. One of my favorite moments in the movie comes when one character’s moment of triumph (so cliché but so prevalent in similar films) is completely deflated, turning him from kickass distributor of death to sitting duck in no time flat. Another brilliant, if thoroughly unpleasant, scene comes when Jim and some of the locals wager on one of the outsiders making it safely through a booby-trapped field: when the victim winds up caught in a trap, Jim has one of his guys go free her, so that they can continue their bet. It’s a nasty bit of work but it’s also a genius bit of characterization and makes Jim all that more memorable.
And memorable he is: Jim and his perverted ringmaster outfit has to be one of the most indelible images I’ve seen in some time. O’Neill is masterful as the friendly sociopath: he gets plenty of great speeches and is always a complex character, despite his obvious insanity. The kids are pretty generic, to be honest, but that’s also pretty expected in films like this. I did think there was some really nice work being done by Doherty and Hartley as the supposed authority figures: Hartley turns into a fairly effective hero, while Doherty gets some nicely emotional beats and has the benefit of perishing in one of the most genuinely surprising jump scares I’ve ever seen.
Ultimately, however, individual mileage with Inbred will vary: if you tend to be a sensitive viewer, this is absolutely not the film for you. Whether it’s a rampaging yokel with a hairlip and a chainsaw, torture involving vegetables jammed up noses or a literal shit explosion, Inbred has a real way of upping the ante and keeping it there. I feel fairly safe in stating that there should be something here to offend just about everyone. In a way, however, this becomes one of the film’s greatest strengths: it’s exceptionally well-made and acted but it’s also completely fearless, which is an intoxicating trait for a horror film to possess. In an era where many horror films have begun to seem too similar and too safe, Inbred is that rare beast: a truly transgressive, nasty, mean-spirited film with a coal-black heart and no desire to coddle viewers. I’m not ashamed to say that I had a blast with Inbred, even if I’m not eager to revisit it any time soon. Here’s to hoping that Chandon and company have another nasty little treat like this up their sleeves: sometimes, you just gotta walk on the wild side.