Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Hans Stjernsward for allowing me early access to his debut feature-length film “The Farm”. The Farm is a Horror/Thriller film about a young couple, Nora and Alec (played by Nora Yessayan and Alec Gaylord) who are kidnapped shortly after stopping at a local diner while travelling across country. From there, they’re taken to a remote living community where they’re subjected to treatment like farm animals and eventually killed or sold for profit. The film also stars Ken Volok, Rob Tisdale, Kelly Mis and David Air.
Ever since Rob Schmidt’s 2003 film “Wrong Turn”, a backwoods hillbilly horror (with five sequels that followed) that went on to become one of the most consistent franchises in the subgenre’s history, there’s been a significant spike in demented family in the woods films. To be fair, you have to go all the way back to the early works of Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs) to see where the genre originated, but of course it was Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 74′ and Wes Craven’s original “Hills Have Eyes” in 77′ that really put the “backwoods slasher” on the map. Here we are in 2018 and we’ve pretty much seen it all. Films like the aforementioned Wrong Turn have been done to death, and let’s be honest, that’s great for fans of this specific type of film because we get what we pay for. We’ve had a slew of American entries, as well as European additions like “Frontiers”, “Gnaw”,”Killbillies” and more recently “Escape From Cannibal Farm (among many others). So, Hans Stjernsward’s “The Farm”, is again, much the same, so make of that what you will. Hans and DP, Egor Povolotskiy take a really professional approach to what is otherwise a by the numbers, low-budget entry. The Farm opens with an establishing shot that lingers on a deserted stretch of dirt road, and Sergei Stern’s pulsating and dynamic dramatic score explodes into the mix immediately. It’s an extremely layered Polanski/Hitchcockian esq composition that drew me right in. Egor implements a number of effective dolly shots, both with tracking as well as pulling back, and there’s one scene presented via a really long take as a character walks around the compound. There’s also a series of really smart focus pulls, that almost always reveal to the viewer something important in the frame.
There’s a young composer by the name of Giona Ostinelli (Carnage Park and Darling), whose one of my personal favourites, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of him with Stern’s sublime score in The Farm. The bulk of the film’s soundtrack centers around sharply played strings, namely cello and violin. There’s definite shades of The Hills Have Eyes (06) score seeping into the mix, and I recall hearing some ambient sounds perhaps created by a horn or some woodwind instruments. Coupled with crisp foley and eerie sound design, there’s a certain rhythmic beat and atmosphere to The Farm. The production design seems inspired by the likes of “Motel Hell”, and externally, the location has the same desolate vibe of a more select group of films such as Chris Hoffmann’s, “Drifter” https://adamthemoviegod.com/drifter-review-3/ and even Andy Palmer’s underrated, “Badlands Of Kain” https://adamthemoviegod.com/badlands-of-kain-review/ Stjernsward’s script is pretty straight forward. There’s the conventional setup that involves the couple stumbling upon a local in need of assistance, a quick stop for food, and of course a run in with the creepy caretaker (played by Volok) of the cosy cabin that’s in the middle of the woods. It’s what a lot of us have come to expect from these types of films and there’s a reason why we like it. Performance wise, our two leads in Nora and Alec (both character names and coincidentally the actors names as well) are both serviceable. Unfortunately they’re given paper-thin arcs, and in fact, often don’t even come across as though they’re really a couple (seeming more like brother and sister instead). Volok is suitably creepy as the man behind the mask (so to speak) but never really finds that moment to command our attention. The film does contain a few practical effects, specifically an impressive disembowelment. There’s also a bear trap used in a later scene but the blood and gore is relatively scarce.
From a pure technical point of view, The Farm is a mostly accomplished film with a higher than expected production value. That said, the dialogue track is noticeably low in the mix when compared with the music. There’s a few scenes throughout the film that can be difficult to hear (though this was only a screener copy). Egor’s framing is a little unsure at times and a few more dynamic shot choices would’ve been a welcomed addition. As I mentioned earlier, both the antagonists and protagonists lack personality and character arc. Now, if The Farm went all out with on-screen carnage then you’d have something to draw the attention away from those inadequate elements, the problem is it doesn’t. There isn’t really even a hint of action until well over half way into the film and that’s an issue when you’re making a backwoods style slasher. I know I preach this constantly but there’s a valid reason for it. Horror 101 (of this nature) asks of you to deliver on an early kill if for no other reason than to bring your audience in nice and early. The Farm doesn’t do that, it keeps you at arm’s length for basically an hour before any real blood is spilt, keep in mind the film only runs 80 minutes long (including credits). Making matters worse is that the tension created in the beginning of the second act fizzles out long before anything violent happens. So what we’re left with is a couple of bare bones characters we’re not all that interested in and a sort of headquarters we learn very little about. The film isn’t without its continuity issues either. At one stage a character suddenly appears underneath a bed with no plausible way as to how he got there, and despite the caretaker claiming he seldom gets any visitors at the cabin, Nora doesn’t raise a query about the number of cars parked outside if such was the case. I did enjoy the climax, but I can’t help but think Han’s missed an opportunity to take Nora’s character down a different path. I really thought she’d think it through a bit better, perhaps pose as one of the locals in order to escape.
The Farm calls to mind endless films of the particular sub-genre it’s illustrating. Set in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre esq landscape inside a mysterious commune that could be found in something like the Badlands Of Kain or even Red State, The Farm correlates its violence with ones individual diet, seemingly if you make the wrong choice you die. It’s a quick run time, simple approach and presented in an aesthetically pleasing way. Egor’s cinematography is well crafted, the sound design is atmospheric and Sergei Stern’s score is a masterclass in musical composition, and probably my favourite aspect of the film. There’s good production design, the acting is decent and some of the action looks quite good. The film’s downfall is simply that it just doesn’t have enough on-screen action to compete with its counterparts or any of the heavyweights of the genre. I could ignore some of the shortcomings in character logic, and to a degree even the one-dimensional characters if the presence of violence was stronger, but it’s not. With just the two characters riding the wave for the long haul, I suppose a sizeable body count might have been an unrealistic expectation. Though there’s a reason films like The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn contain so many characters, and it’s to give yourself that out or room to move. The Farm is certainly watchable and worth a look for fans of the aforementioned films, I just think it might struggle to stand on its own. In the end, this is an honest endeavour and I look forward to seeing what Hans does next.
My rating for “The Farm” is 5.5/10