Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"This isn't a remake but feels like one." | Photo: Courtesy of SXSW

It is rarely a good sign for a film's suspension of disbelief that one looks at the sky and ponders if the moon really ought to have been in that phase at that time. It being July 30th, 1979, it should have been a half moon, waxing, and not the gibbous nearly full of the Sunday to come. It's a small detail, but it is perhaps indicative. Not just of the places where X doesn't quite mark its spot but where in its various acts of reproduction it doesn't cross or dot its various letters.

The X rating was withdrawn in the US in 1990, but its history before that covers both horror and pornography. Oddly enough, so too here. From the off, with whatever the past participle of the verb form of 'seventies' applied to the logos of the production companies, this is an act of homage if not idolatry. The gap between adulation of cinema and adult film is a blurry one, but it's made more complicated not just by time but by layers.

At times splendid to look at, we open on a farmhouse where the frame is cut to 4:3 or thereabouts by our view through an open barn door. We push towards an approaching police car, the Sheriff who will deliver the film's closing words and a genre lesson is on his way. After the bloody wreckage comes an intertitle, "24 hours earlier".

Only you've seen this before. Maybe not exactly, the stars and bars of a bulbous 1979 are similarly shaped to Wyatt's chopper in Easy Rider (R) but we've also had a cocaine-fuelled pornstar affirmation like those in Boogie Nights (R). We are listening to Mungo Jerry's In The Summertime, which hasn't been in a Quentin Tarantino film but has been on a compilation called Music From Quentin Tarantino Films, which is even more impressive because the film it's ostensibly from (A Game For Six Lovers / L'eau à La Bouche) is not one of his and came out ten years before the song. Jacques Doniol-Valcroze may have been influential but he wasn't a wizard.

It doesn't matter, admittedly, that the soundtrack isn't right, because between the long legs and painted toes on dashboard and a later shot of those same little piggies wiggling in a bayou the bill has been filled, if not killed. Killing there will be, aplenty, but later. Much later in fact, there's some recourse to tension from genre, in that we know something bad must happen because of how the film has been sold to us. There's mention of Hitchcock which we will revisit but there's quite a bit of rope, some of it old, to play out first. I made it roughly 40 minutes before the first of several jump scares and startles, but before that there were a few auteur statements.

That comes from RJ (Owen Campbell), who plans something "out of order" and "avant garde", who wants to prove it's possible to make a "dirty movie that's good." Campbell has directed a short himself, but he isn't working alone here. His girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) operates the boom mike which in the filming of the film within the film must be in the shot but not in the shot in the shot. Her relation to the film will strain other relations, but again, we will revisit that. Producing is Wayne (Martin Henderson), that refined-coca mantra mutterer is his sometime paramour Maxine (Mia Goth). Rounding out and extending the cast of The Farmer's Daughter are Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott 'Kid Cudi' Mescudi).

There's plenty of that dirty movie on show, a mention of the forthcoming home video market which is intriguing given how often the film seeks to ape if not recreate the grain and colour of, well, film. That exposure includes a prosthetic that rivals the torch and gun that someone else is holding. Before that fleshy silhouette we've had actual organs, on the road to their location with scrape of shovel and steam from road we've seen an errant head of beef or dairy cow that was struck and split by a truck.

We don't see it as closely as a shot that tracks across the controls of the sound recorder, so large upon the screen that one wonders if it was a model shot. That film within is mixed back and across, later that intercutting is mixed with splitscreen as things happen in parallel, and, well, we'll revisit that.

Ti West writes, directs. He's a fair few horror to his name, a Western and a cult caper too, and even a passing familiarity with his filmmaking pales in comparison to the racing certainties this film gives to his film-viewing. There are some striking moments, an aerial (likely drone) shot of the swimming hole is still like an approaching predator. The tiny figures on the ridge with the trees behind show a scale and sense of place to this backwoods farm and that and the others so far mentioned are perhaps the best of its bits.

At one point as impulses of one kind vie with the creative urge we're told that "stories can't just suddenly change halfway through" but we already knew it was going to. We've had by this point a conversation about Psycho and I was minded most specifically of Gus Van Sant's remake. There are moments where other films come shining through, Chekhov could perhaps equip a brigade of marines with the elements foregrounded. There's both music and colour ostensibly diegetic in places but a version of Landslide doesn't so much suggest a surfeit of emotion as that someone out there has Jersey Girl on DVD.

In terms of emotional impact there's some subversion of that sitting down and crying in the shower trope, but that makes it all the more odd when its apparent willingness to reverse or subvert is met with oncoming fatalities being clearly telegraphed. I won't reveal the final girl but much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre it's a pickup truck that's her salvation. We're given more motivations for the monstrous too, though there's something off about what it desires to make grotesque.

There seems to be a desire to have cake and eat it. Not literally, thankfully, but the television in the corner is both chorus and, for purposes of resolution, near enough the machina from which deus ex. I know that's bad grammar, I'm revisiting the avant garde through having things out of order.

No less an effort in terms of attempting to recreate the signs and signifiers of a film that's aping the films its protagonists are both in and in. It's not so much a snake devouring its tail as an unkind rewind. While you may be familiar with the originals this at this remove feels like it is covering old ground that's already been well ploughed. You might say Hallelujah but at best it's Jeff Buckley's, or Alexandra Burke's. It's a new skin for the old ceremony but that snake will shed it again.

There are some moving images here, but they're mired in a mimeographic miasma, a romance by the photocopier. This isn't a remake but feels like one, shots might throw us from here to there with reckless abandon but the theres and heres aren't new. Indeed, they're deliberately aged, but the pattern of their patina seems pat, patently false. There might be space for something that's so fixed in its efforts to be something that it cannot achieve it, but while you might have capacity for that degree of post modernism I haven't the room.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2022
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In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast find themselves fighting for their lives.
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Director: Ti West

Writer: Ti West

Starring: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, Scott Mescudi

Year: 2022

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


SXSW 2022

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