Being a horror fan and film critic for Inside Pulse Movies, I watch a lot of low budget, independent horror films. With this comes the realization that the majority of horror films released today are garbage. What bugs me the most, though, is when the first two acts of one of these horror films are decent-good, then the final act of the film implodes on itself, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Such is the case with the After Dark Original film Husk.
In Husk, five friends set out on a vacation to their favorite watering hole in the middle of nowhere. On the way there they have some car trouble in the form of crows flying into their window. The crows force the driver, Chris, to lose control, and the SUV crashes into a ditch next to a cornfield. Needless to say, no one in the group can get any cell phone reception, so they head to an old farmhouse they spot through the cornfield. Unfortunately for them, this is no ordinary scary, old, abandoned house in the middle of a cornfield, and the scarecrows have some inner demons they’re trying to work out.
Husk’s originality is stuffed between so many horror movie clichés that it gets lost, and the “generic” label haunts almost every aspect of the film. Where this random cornfield and creepy house are located is, by all counts, Anywhere, USA. The characters themselves are clichés: the track star and his hot-but-otherwise nondescript girlfriend, the chess club nerd, and the jerk. To be fair, there are moments when these characters break banality, but not nearly enough to make them memorable or realistic. On top of this, the exposition for the possessed scarecrows is told through random visions that one character has; why this particular character has these visions, or what sparks them is a question that writer/director Brett Simmons never approaches, which does nothing but add to the generic tone of the film.
In keeping with the theme of the movie, the acting is nothing to write home about. There is one standout that overcomes a mediocre script, and that is the chess club nerd, Devon Graye. Graye, who played the teenage Dexter on the television show of the same title, is an obviously talented actor who fits into the horror genre nicely. His looks can have him playing the charming, fatally attractive serial killer role (as in Dexter) or, when you toss a pair of dark rimmed glasses on him, the nerd role (as in Husk). Fortunately his acting ability is strong enough to play either role effortlessly. Hopefully Graye appears in bigger and better films in the future so that we can really see his talents on display. Among the rest of the cast, Wes Chatham is decent as the track star, but unlike Graye, falls victim to the character written for him by Simmons.
What’s most disappointing about Husk is not the generic characters and (mostly) forgettable acting, but rather the fact that the film managed to capture my attention for the first 30 minutes or so, but then fell apart towards the end. The special effects look great, as with most After Dark pictures, and the scarecrows are innately scary enough to keep most folks interested. It is what Husk did, or more accurately, didn’t do, after it had my attention that upset me.
Husk started as a short, 25-minute film, and it works better in that format. Save yourself the extra 60-minutes by watching this instead. With only 25-minutes to tell a story, there is little time for exposition, which is actually a strength of the short when compared to the feature length film. The acting is terrible in the short film, but, aside from Devon Graye, it isn’t great in the feature length either. The short film debuted at Sundance in 2005, and Brett Simmons shows that an engaging short horror film can be made on a small budget. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate over to the feature film.
It’s important to support independent filmmakers, but when there are guys out there like (Dark Fields creator) Douglas Schulze, its okay to be picky about which ones you give you hard earned cash. Brett Simmons has some talent as a director, but Husk doesn’t showcase this nearly as well as its short film inspiration; it misses the mark, and becomes one of the countless other generic horror films with little to say.
There are no visual or audio problems with Husk. In fact, for a DVD release, this film looks great. There isn’t a ton of detail in the dark scenes, but that is to be expected from DVD. Presented with a widescreen, 16×9 format with a 1.78:1 contrast ratio, Husk does video quality quite well. The audio is even better, and the soundtrack makes full use of its English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. There is also a 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio option, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Brett Simmons, Actors Wes Chatham, Devon Graye, and C.J. Thomason: Simmons talks about the clichés he sets up in the beginning of the film, and gives the opinion that he feels that horror movie fans want to see these clichés, and if they don’t, he or she is upset. I completely disagree with this statement, but Simmons practices what he preaches with Husk. He mentions that he made a conscious effort to jump right into the story and bypass character development, which did nothing but hurt the film. Simmons immediately comes off as a guy that would be great to have a conversation with about horror films. These four have excellent chemistry on the commentary, and it’s great to hear what they have to say about the genre, and the making of the film.
After Dark Films Presents The Making of Husk (11:49): It’s fascinating hearing a director talk to his actors before they shoot a scene because it gives more insight than any interview ever could. That is where this documentary begins, and I love it. There are also interviews with Brett Simmons where he talks about his inspiration for the film. This is a great, quick “making of” video that is highly recommended.
Sketches and Storyboard (2:03): The pages of storyboards are presented as a slideshow. I didn’t find anything worth watching in these two minutes.
Photo Gallery (1:19): A still-shot slideshow of pictures from the production. This is an odd special feature that I could have lived without.
Theatrical Trailer (2:17): I made mention of this trailer in a separate review, commenting on how effective it was. Nothing has changed, and this remains an excellent trailer.
Also from Lionsgate (8:11): Trailers for After Dark Originals, After Dark Horrorfest 4, FearNET HD, Break.com, and Epix.
Husk doesn’t live up to the excellent trailer that I came across a couple months ago. Brett Simmons tries to build something new, but gets caught up in the horror movie clichés that most fans of the genre, including myself, are tired of seeing. The audio and video quality is excellent, and there are a couple great special features. Unfortunately the film itself isn’t up to that standard. Stick with the short film, and wait to see what Brett Simmons does next because I can’t imagine that Husk will be his best effort.
After Dark Films presents Husk. Directed by: Brett Simmons. Starring: Devon Graye, Wes Chatham, CJ Thomason, Tammin Sursok, and Ben Easter. Written by: Brett Simmons. Running time: 83 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: March 29, 2011.