This dull and poorly made sitter in peril story puts too much emphasis on cheap scares and overused devices.
I don’t know if the indie horror/thriller neighborhood is steadily growing more crowded, or if it is finally getting the kind of recognition it deserves. My guess is that it’s a bit of both. Regardless of how it’s split, an increase in attention and competition equals a demand for filmmakers to bring their A-game; every time a fan buys a ticket or rents a disc, they’re hoping to see the next It Follows or Blue Ruin. The latest resident in the indie horror/thriller neighborhood comes from Canadian director Audrey Cummings: Berkshire County.
The film stars Alysa King as Kylie Winters, a high school girl who finds herself on the wrong end of a raunchy cellphone video. When the video goes viral on the net and in her school, Kylie is the victim of condescending barbs from the girls, misogynistic suggestions from the guys, and physical abuse from her video partner’s girlfriend. Home is no better, as Kylie’s mom has learned through the grapevine about the embarrassing footage. The only thing that gets Kylie a temporary reprieve from the local heat is a Halloween babysitting gig in the country.
But this gig brings another kind of heat, one worse than any social humiliation can offer. While babysitting, Kylie finds herself terrorized by three intruders wearing hideous pig masks. With the adults gone, and police a lifetime away from the rural area, Kylie has to figure out a way to keep herself, and the two small children in her care, alive.
I had high hopes for Berkshire County. It has a well-worn (but always ripe for retelling) sitter in peril plot, a desolate location, a Halloween backdrop, and some very creepy pig masks. The fact that it’s directed by a woman made me even more interested, with female directors recently providing great modern scare-fare as The Babadook (Jennifer Kent), Honeymoon (Leigh Janiak), and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour).
Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed. Berkshire County is a dull and poorly crafted film that begins with something it doesn’t need, ends with something that doesn’t belong, and struggles to make a go of it in between.
Its opening gambit, where Kylie gets into a compromising position that finds its way onto the internet, offers promise. A lot could be done with that thematically, and a lot of potential is there to lead to something interesting. It never happens, and while the set-up hits all the marks, there is no soul to it; the sex, the betrayal, the scorn, and the irate parent are all reflections of very sterile, checkbox filmmaking. Director Cummings and screenwriter Chris Gamble seem interested in the ideas of that opening bit, and they commit those ideas to page and film, but once they move on to the country home the plotline is left stagnant. Once the film is done, it’s easy to question why it was ever there in the first place.
As for the rest of the film, it is mostly made-for-cable fare in terms of quality and execution, with some gore and an overabundance of jump scares thrown in. The antagonists are only as creepy as their masks, but that loses its scary luster after a while (The one exception is the child of the piggy trio, because watching a kid in a pig mask stab someone is eternally unsettling). Kylie, as the heroine, makes some wildly bad choices, which would be forgivable if those bad choices actually led to something exciting.
Berkshire County is uninspired, offering the lowest common denominator of entertainment a film of its genre can. From start to finish, the filmmakers rely on devices they expect the viewer will rely on, rather than drag audiences outside of their comfort zone with fiendish creativity or fresh twists on old takes. I’m rooting for Audrey Cummings. Really I am. Indie film needs more female horror/thriller directors on its landscape. But after this outing, Cummings has ground to make up for in her very crowded, very scrutinized neighborhood.
Berkshire County opens Friday, June 5th in limited release across Canada, with more cities to follow in the coming weeks.