The Bucks County Massacre


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Bucks County Massacre
"Unfortunately, realism doesn't always make for great cinema."

Another horror movie about a group of young people who hold a party in the woods, only to get picked off one by one? You might be forgiven for thinking there's nothing more that could possibly be done within this subgenre, but The Bucks County Massacre, which won the Audience Award at the 2011 New Hope Film Festival, has an unusual idea. It's interested in asking how people would really behave in that sort of situation, and what would happen to them psychologically as a result. There are the usual macho boys and glamorous girls here, but we also meet their parents and hear about how their brutal deaths have shattered families.

It's an interesting idea, in some ways reminiscent of the glimpses into slaughtered minions' home lives in the Austin Powers movies, but played much straighter. Found footage has a natural place here and a more complex narrative is enabled by presenting it as part of a documentary about the mysterious events. Unfortunately, realism doesn't always make for great cinema. Whilst a postscript challenging the Final Girl myth works well, lengthy scenes that involve people being drunk and having incoherent conversations are about as much fun as the real experience, at least if you watch when sober.

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It takes real skill to pull off scenes like this and the film's relatively inexperienced team just aren't there yet. The idea of a party full of bland, uninteresting twentysomethings is entirely believable but if we're going to engage with this film we need stronger characters. Here we are given potted descriptions - the war journalist, the best friend, daddy's perfect princess - but we never really get to know the people we're supposed to feel for. Of the actors, only Brittany Geiger and Nikki Bell make any real impact, and the latter (along with most of the female characters) is reduced to an incoherent, shrieking wreck far too early. The film also has problems with pacing, and even though we know roughly what's going to happen, an almost total absence of scary stuff in the first half means there's no tension to keep us trembling through the build-up scenes.

Once the action starts, the film has a different problem, but one only a minority of viewers are likely to spot. That is, it suddenly segues away from realism (observations of actual crises and moments of terror tell us most people behave calmly and follow instructions), instead basing its narratives on popular beliefs about how people act when they're scared. So we have a great deal of shrieking, yelling and random running about. Here the format, with camera movements that make perfect sense in context, works against building a real sense of fear. The slower moments, such as a search for a missing friend, are the most effective. The confusion and vulnerability of the young friends is well handled but, again, key scenes outstay their welcome.

And the source of the terror? I won't spoil that for you. It's adequately put together and plays by the less-you-see-more-you-fear rule. There isn't much gore but what there is holds more power because of its effect on those who see it.

A good idea that never quite comes off the way it should, The Bucks County Massacre is more effective as an artistic comment than a piece of entertainment. It might have made a powerful short but doesn't have enough material for a feature. Still, it may provide some satisfaction for the many horror fans who have sat up late at night shaking their heads at cheesy clich├ęs.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2012
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Found footage tells the story of a group of young people mysteriously found dead after a party at a remote house in the woods.
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Director: Jason Sherman

Writer: Jason Sherman, Dan Kellmer, Elliot Hoffman, Jimm Scannell

Starring: Zackary Kresser, Robert Merrigan, Nikki Bell, Dan Kellmer, Brittany Geiger, Tereza Hakobyan, JaQuinley Kerr

Year: 2010

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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