100 Bloody Acres (Australia, 2012)
I know we’re only just over a third of the way into the October Horror Movie Challenge, but I’ll be (pleasantly) surprised if 100 Bloody Acres isn’t my film of the month. It has been a while since a horror film has delighted me so much from start to finish, never flagging for a moment. 100 Bloody Acres straddles the line between black comedy and horror, ultimately more of the former than the latter, and while it rarely frightens, it refuses to play nice.
Sophie, her boyfriend, James, and their obnoxious English backpacker friend Wes are on their way to a music festival when their car breaks down. They manage to convince Reg Morgan, a local fertiliser manufacturer and distributor, to give them a lift in his van, unaware that Reg has just retrieved a human body from a car wreck to use for raw materials (apparently something of a habit of his). When the boys discover the corpse in the back of the van, Reg realises he can’t let them go. Acting out of panic, Reg improvises a plan to turn his passengers into fertiliser, calling on the help of his overbearing and brutish brother, Lindsay.
While the Morgan brothers have been opportunistic scavengers up to this point, Lindsay starts to display an aptitude for murder that shocks his more sensitive brother. The rest of the film is a chaos of shifting alliances, half-baked plans and bizarre complications. All the characters are so well-developed that none of their betrayals or changes of heart seem at all forced, no matter how unexpected; every twist and turn feels as organic as Morgan Brothers Special Blend. By the time we approach the blood-soaked finale, almost all definitions of who is a hero and who is a villain are up for grabs. And when your villain makes pronouncements like “We’re not here to fuck spiders,” you can’t help but root for him a bit.
It’s not just the bumbling brutality of the Morgan brothers that fuels the laughs: the three kidnapped festival-goers also provide their share. Wes has chosen the worst possible time to drop acid, turning his escape attempts into psychedelic comic nightmares. Meanwhile James and Sophie bicker about the fault lines in their relationship even as they are on the verge of being turned into mulch. The sharply scripted dialogue keeps these situations tense and funny throughout, never alienating us from caring about the characters.
Stories about the unscrupulous or simply psychopathic seeing people as nothing more than raw materials weren’t new even in the days of Sweeney Todd, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film about people being turned into fertiliser. And, if the success of the Morgan Brothers’ Special Blend is anything to go by, we make excellent fertiliser; running a few chemical tests on the remains of his first victim, Lindsay proclaims the remains “liquid gold”. It is a nice twist on the more common tropes of cannibalism.
It’s hard to believe that 100 Bloody Acres is the Cairns brothers’ first feature film. Everything about it is polished and assured, and it never flags for a minute. Not only is their script tight, but their visual storytelling is energetic, expertly ratcheting up tension even as we release it in laughter. I hope to see more from them soon.