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A group of friends are on their way to a lake house vacation spot when their car crashes. Stranded, they spot a lone house sitting in the middle of Nowheres Cornfield USA. It’s moody and dangerous looking and creepy as all get-out. So of course two of the friends, Brian (Wes Chatham) and Scott (Devon Graye) head off to find help, leaving behind Chris (C.J. Thomason) and Natalie (Tammin Sursok), Brian’s slightly loopy girlfriend. There is a fifth member of the group, Johnny (Ben Easter), who has gone missing in the aftermath of the accident. Soon, something evil inside the cornfields strikes, cutting the number of vacationers in half. Yeah, kinda saw that coming, dincha? Have faith, though, it actually gets better.
“Husk” is another 2011 entry in the After Dark Originals line of films, including the previously reviewed “Prowl”. It’s another surprisingly strong effort, particularly given the lack of resources writer/director Brett Simmons had to work with. The film is the full-length version of a short film that Simmons did back in 2005, and it’s quite the streamline affair. The set-up is brisk, the action is fast and furious, and there is enough of a backstory to the supernatural shenanigans as to provide an explanation to those needing one. This is, after all, a movie about killer scarecrows, so I honestly don’t know who would demand a backstory to that, but in case you wanted one, Simmons supplies it in the form of flashbacks, each one helpfully triggered by the appearance of some well-trained crows.
While “Husk” features a number of tropes from the genre, it also has a pretty wicked set of agendas of its own. You’ll quickly notice the lack of a familiar strong-willed heroine aka The Inevitable Final Girl. TV actress Tammin Sursok as the girlfriend is the film’s lone female, and she doesn’t survive past the first 20 minutes. Which is surprising, since cute girls who sees dead boys wandering around cornfields usually end up as a horror movie’s last survivor, being all intuitive and whatnot. How many times I gotta watch a little ol girl outrun, outfight, and outthink a supernatural creature as her stronger and bigger male colleagues fall by the wayside like bowling pins?
The film’s de facto hero is nerd Scott (Graye), whose unexplained visions of the past fills us in on the origins of the cornfields’ killer scarecrows. Well, Scott isn’t really much of a hero; it’s not like he grows a set ala Ash from the first “Evil Dead” movie or anything. For much of the film, Brian (Chatham) is set up as the all-American hero — fast, strong, quick-thinking, and hopelessly devoted to his girl — but you quickly realize ol Brian may be a little TOO devoted to his dead girlfriend. This is a reminder to all you boys out there. It’s okay to love your girl, but when she’s killed by some scarecrows and becomes one of them, it’s time to cut ties. There’s also Chris (Thomason), but he’s too erratic and unreliable to offer up any value as a hero, though he does make a surprising heroic play towards the end. Overall, the film’s lack of a central male lead to heroically carry the day is another pleasant surprise.
More than once, I was sure Simmons would run into a wall and have nowhere to go with the narrative. “Husk” is a very straightforward affair, and Simmons’ script limits the action entirely to and around the farmhouse and the surrounding cornfields. The survivors have one sole object — survive. To do that, they have to figure out what the scarecrows want and how they operate. Scott eventually figures it all out thanks to those helpful and completely unexplained flashbacks, though not before all the boys have been slashed to hell and back. The scarecrows, you see, have hammered nails into their fingers that they then use as slashing weapons. This leads to some gory scenes, though their primary purpose is really for shock value. Without a doubt, Simmons is a visually very impressive director, and I am really anxious to see what he can do with a bigger budget and more resources.
If you’ve been slumming in the genre for as long as I have, then you’ve probably seen your fair share of killer scarecrow movies. There was something of a boom a few years back, where I saw, no kidding, at least six similarly themed movies in the space of a few years. Brett Simmons’ “Husk” definitely ranks as one of the best in the sub-genre, and it certainly begs for a sequel. “Husk” also marks the second surprisingly good After Dark film after “Prowl”, and like that other film, it’s a very brisk and exhilarating affair and much better than I had expected. That may sound like a backhanded compliment to Simmons and crew, but it’s really not. Honest.
Brett Simmons (director) / Brett Simmons (screenplay)
CAST: Devon Graye … Scott
Wes Chatham … Brian
C.J. Thomason … Chris
Tammin Sursok … Natalie
Ben Easter … Johnny