Monday, November 11, 2013

Madison County (2011)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

James (Colley Bailey) invites his best friend, Will (Matt Mercer), his girlfriend, Brooke (Joanna Sotomura), and Brooke’s friend, Jenna (Natalie Scheetz) on a road trip. James leads the group to the small town of Madison County to interview a local author. David Randall (Dayton Knoll) wrote Devil In The Woods, a book based on a local serial killer named Damien Ewell (Nick Principe), and through a series of letters to each other, David granted James a one on one interview for his thesis.

As a photographer, Will plans to snap some pictures of the rural countryside, but he’ll have bigger problems to worry about, when Brooke’s overbearing older brother, Kyle (Ace Marrero) tags along for the trip. Kyle isn’t aware of Brooke’s relationship with Will. Kyle and Brooke’s father don’t approve of Will, so Kyle forces his way into James’ plans as a self-appointed watchdog.

Before James and the group arrive in Madison County, James ignores a local stranger’s suggestion for a shortcut. In Madison County, the group receives an awkward and icy greeting from the townspeople at the local diner. Here, the head waitress, Erma (Adrienne Harrell) reveals the location of Randall’s house in the woods. Kyle stops an angry resident from using his knife on Will, but the knife wielding maniac leaves Kyle and everyone else with a foreboding warning about disturbing the peace in Madison County.

James’ discovers pictures linking David to Damien at David’s seemingly abandoned house, and a bigger problem emerges, when each member of the group slowly disappears one by one. Will encounters Damien wearing a pig mask in the woods, and to satisfy his unquenchable blood lust, Damien plans to eliminate the unwelcomed visitors in Madison County.

I’ve seen my fair share of horror films over the years, and it never ceases to amaze me how a group of  twenty something city kids or teenagers wander into this little quiet town with a dark secret during a road trip, and they NEVER suspect anything fishy until it’s too late. You know the formula. Kids wander into the little, quiet town, because they’re on a vacation (oddly enough it‘s a vacation to a lake house or cabin 85% of the time), need directions to their final destination, someone has to use the bathroom, or they stop for a quick bite to eat. Then, each member of the group mysteriously disappears one by one, the creepy townspeople are either a. apart of some underground killing network/conspiracy, b. they’re cannibals, or c. they’re helping and/or protecting the local maniac/killer, who‘s a deranged and mentally ill inbred hillbilly.

Unfortunately, Madison County follows this formula step by step, and it’s hard to ignore the frustrating levels of stupidity from the main characters. From the MOMENT the group steps foot in the diner, you can sense something is wrong during a tense moment of eerie silence. All the townspeople in the diner refuse to take their eyes off of James, Will, Brooke, Jenna, and Kyle, and you can’t ignore the looks of disdain. Outside, this lunatic threatens Will with a knife, while promising a gruesome end for the group, but that’s not enough to convince you to leave? Seriously? Randall’s house is empty, there’s no one around. Get. The Hell. Out of there! Are you waiting for a mangled corpse to fall out of the sky, as a foolproof sign to leave Madison County? “Hey guys! A dead body just fell from the sky! I Think we should leave…maybe.” Ugh.

On top of that, you have the stupid, STUPID “Let’s split up!” strategy. It starts with Kyle, who takes the only working vehicle in the group to return to the diner to ask questions? Yeah. Back at the house, for no logical reason at all, James, Will, Jenna, and Brooke split up into teams of two (James and Jenna, Will and Brooke)? Of course, with the numbers game in his favor, Damien is able to pick off and kill everyone with ease.

And I can’t forget about this idiotic chase scene with Jenna and Brooke in the woods. Jenna and Brooke are running from Damien. Jenna comes up with a plan to create a diversion, so Brooke can escape. During a struggle with Damien, Jenna is able to knockout Damien for a brief moment…..but Jenna doesn’t make a run for it. Instead, she gives an unconscious Damien a chance to get back up, attack her, and yes, Damien eventually murders Jenna. Brooke? Instead of taking the opportunity to run for an escape (because you know, that was the whole point of Jenna’s diversion) Brooke hides behind a tree during Jenna‘s antics and her death, giving Damien time to notice Brooke’s presence. I was speechless, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Sorry, but it’s hard to have sympathy for the deaths of stupid characters.

Generic characters? Yep. You’ll see your fair share in Madison County. Will is the insecure nerd, Brooke is the sweet good girl, Jenna is eye candy as the hot blonde, and Kyle’s that one guy in the group, who’s a jerk to everyone, filling the role of your typical buzkill.

Damien Ewell? Eh, sorry, but he’s not intimidating enough. The pig mask and his dirty clothes are a nice touch, but Damien doesn’t have the essential ominous presence. He’s a scrawny guy, and that’s okay for a crony, but the lead antagonist? No…just no. It’s hard to adjust to and fear Damien, when you consider other hulking and towering behemoths in the horror genre (Michael Myers, Jason, etc.). Plus, Damien’s muffled squealing brought a few unintentional laughs out of me.

I don’t understand the unrated tag for Madison County. For an “unrated” horror  film, Madison County is VERY tamed. I’m talking about gore, violence, dialogue, nudity, everything. The scene where Damien shoves a broken baseball bat into Will’s mouth? Yeah, that’s nasty, but Will’s death  isn’t enough to justify an unrated label in a film with mild blood and gore, and one timid topless scene. When I see a box cover with a creepy guy wearing a pig mask, dressed in filthy clothing, and wielding a bloodstained axe with a handful of human hair, I’m going to have big expectations for a repulsive and cringeworthy horror flick. 

Although, I’ll give credit where credit is due. Madison County caught me off guard with a few genuinely surprising twists towards the end. Erma being Damien’s mother? Didn’t see that one coming. David is the stranger, who told James about the shortcut at the beginning, and David is the father of Kristen (Katie Stageman). Long story short, Kristen is shown as the victim of a kidnapping at the beginning. She’s a victim of Damien, so David lured James and his friends to Madison County to help with a rescue mission.

Plus, I enjoyed the clever finale. James and Kristen escape Madison County on a pickup truck together, but  a wounded and traumatized Brooke wanders into the diner to seek Erma’s help. Remember, Brooke never returned to the diner with James or Kyle, so she doesn’t know about the conspiracy involving the townspeople and Erma. Erma promises a visit to the doctor’s house for medical care and a phone call to the local sheriff, but as Brooke waits outside for a ride in Erma’s car, Erma sneaks up behind her, and Erma viciously stabs Brooke to death. Director/writer Eric England did a great job of setting up the shot with Brooke missing the sight of the fleeing pickup truck containing James and Kristen. A nice little surprise, because the innocent good girl usually makes it to the end, as the sole survivor, but Brooke suffers a brutal end here.

Still, I can’t go with a positive score for this one. Madison County is a frustrating, FRUSTRATING horror film with stupid characters, and you’ll see plenty of “Don’t do that!” moments here. I can picture others having some mindless fun with Madison County as a guilty pleasure, but for me, the sporadic rewards can’t outweigh the mound of mind-numbing horror clich├ęs, a mediocre cast, and an overall so-so story I’ve seen more times than I can count.

Ratings: 3/10

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