By Andrew Buckner
Rating: **** out of *****.
In Pitchfork (2017), the ninety-four-minute full-length feature debut from director and co-writer Glenn Douglas Packard, great strides are taken to align the title entity to the notorious razor gloved killer from Wes Craven’s seminal classic Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Freddy Krueger. This is most evident in a beautifully realized moment near the half hour mark. Here Packard’s antagonist pauses, visibly relishing the adrenaline rush of hunting his next victim, at the top of a flight of basement steps. His shadowy frame is unmistakably reminiscent of that of Craven’s creation. The parallel is further complete as Packard’s fiend holds the murderous farm tool of his moniker to his right side. This is much as Krueger did when stalking uncountable teens in the aforementioned series. There is also a third act instant where Packard’s uniquely designed antagonist splays his instrument of death against a set of boards as he slowly walks by. Such a measure causes sparks to fly from the place of impact. This was another common Krueger taunting action. Such an instant happened several times throughout the eight (or nine if you count the inane 2010 remake) exertions in the Craven commenced franchise.
Episodes such as these only enhance the consistently high amusement value of Packard’s Clare and Houghton Lake, Michigan recorded construction. Likewise, Packard and accompanying co-producer Darryl F. Gariglio deliver a solidly wrought screenplay. It is structured, characterized and paced much in the manner of the pantheon of prior efforts in the slasher sub-genre. Furthermore, Gariglio captures every one of the various tropes established in these cinematic undertakings. Given that this is a source of pride for fellow fanatics of these types of tales, this trait comes off as knowing and respectful to the foundation laid down by these past horror entries. This also adds to the lively, playful fun inherent in the first hour. When the picture takes on an ever darker, almost sadistic tone in the concluding section, it seems to be sending-up an entirely different classification of terror opus. This is that of the so called “torture porn” productions. These were given mainstream popularity in the early 2000’s. Such occurred with the arrival of James Wan’s genre-redefining Saw (2004) and Eli Roth’s imitative Hostel (2005).
Still, this late segment succeeds just as well as what came beforehand. This is because it provides Packard plenty of opportunities to showcase his aptitude for providing extended sequences of prolonged intensity. For example, the events encapsulating the final twenty minutes are a masterclass in this arena. Packard wrings claustrophobia from a situation that is as tried and true as much of what came prior. This is as much a testament to the caliber and commitment of the performances as it is Packard’s own work. For example, Daniel Wilkinson is terrific as the murderous antagonist (also referred to as Ben Holister Jr.). His portrayal is, common to the modern fright film, based more on movement and demeanor than articulation. This is a long proven and effective means of conveying the antihero in these types of undertakings. It also makes the proceedings more enjoyable. This is as it calls to mind another iconic terror show entity: Jason Voorhees. Similarly, the rest of the cast is just as captivating. Brian Raetz as our lead, Hunter Killian, Lindsey Nicole as Clare, Ryan Moore as Matt and Celina Beach as Lenox deliver vibrant, watchable enactments. The same can be said for Nicole Dambro as Flo, Keith Wabb as Rocky, Sheila Leason as Janelle and Vibhu Raghave as Gordon. Rachel Carter as Judy Holister (or “Ma”) and Andrew Dawe Collins as Ben Holister Sr. (or “Pa”) present gritty, unflinching portrayals in their respective turns. Like the rest of the players, Carter and Collins are relishing their depictions. The evident fun these two are with their particularly ravenous illustrations only magnifies that illuminated on-screen.
Packard chronicles Hunter facing his parents for the first time after telling them a long held personal secret. Nervous about such an encounter after divulging such highly personal information, he organizes a group of close friends. Their mission is to arise from New York to the farm where he was raised. Seeing this as a chance to party, Hunter’s close accomplices turn his mother and father’s barn into a celebration of music and conversation. But, this happiness soon fades. What our thrill seeking, care free spirits didn’t count on is the fiend connected to the bygone days of our central youngsters. He has come to turn the laughter and joy into bloodshed.
The plot is kept deliberately straight-forward and simple. Yet, it is perfect for a vehicle such as what Packard has expertly crafted here. The dialogue retains this same attribute. The collection of scenes that erect the get-together in the outbuilding are undeniably well-done. They project the merriment our protagonists are elucidating ingeniously. A dance number which transpires herein is where this radiant joy is most significant. But, Pitchfork succeeds in a category pivotal to this specific brand of photoplay. This is in its plethora of imaginative kills. Best of all, they do not need a heavy reliance on gore to be considered striking. A double slaughter near the halfway point is especially creative. It also stunningly balances its alternately playful and brutal tone. The opening five-minute segment is especially attention-garnering. Not only does it start things off brilliantly, but it also is a tremendous showcase of Rey Gutierrez’s moody, gloriously fashioned cinematography. A riveting, intimate shot which seems as if the camera is quickly moving through the fields in this early section is definitive proof of such a statement. Additionally, Gutierrez and Kristin Gerhart issue editing that is sharp and stalwart. Christie Beau’s original music is phenomenal. It is atmospheric and haunting in equal measure. J. Cullen Humphreys’ set decoration and Veronica Porras’ wardrobe department contribution adds to the everyday authenticity apparent throughout the labor. Danielle Montini, Timothy Montoya, Cassie Packard, David Root, Emily Sigler and Carrie Stalk create a camera and electrical team whose wonderful, proficient input guides every frame. Tim Alward, Patrick Busby, Michael Capuano, Evan Menak and Harryson Thevenin evoke masterful sound. Moreover, Joshua Romeo’s various stunts are proficiently and credibly executed. The result is easy to admire endeavor. It is one that is as naturally likable as the personalities we follow in the affair.
Distributed through Uncork’d Entertainment, Pitchfork ascribes to be among the ranks of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. In so doing, it proves itself as more than worthy. Though it holds a bit too closely to the traditions of former offerings of its ilk to be a true groundbreaker, the enjoyment inherent throughout never wavers. This is a decidedly old-fashioned voyage into fear. It is one that is devoid of much of the gimmicks or unyielding seriousness present in far too many modern attempts at trepidation. This factor alone makes the application recommendation worthy. But, it is remarkable on both a technical level. Everyone involved does spectacularly with their individual tasks. Likewise, it ends with a smirk-inducing note. It is one which cryptically hints at all the details of the tale left to be told. This is while simultaneously forcing us to reanalyze everything we thought we knew previously. It is a perfect set-up for a sequel; an unspoken promise I hope Packard and crew make good upon. As it is, this is a fantastic inauguration to a franchise that promises to be described in the same manner. This stands as an incredible reminder of what made me initially admire celluloid shock. More than anything, it gloriously exhibits the timelessness of these items. In turn, it also validates how they retain their enduring appeal. Packard has unleashed an instant classic; an outstanding new boogeyman to haunt the dreams of a generation.