Broken down and stranded, Wes, Sophie and her boyfriend James are given a ride from Reg, one half of fertilizer producing brothers Morgans Organic and somewhat of a local celebrity. Wes and James uncover a mutilated body in the back of Reg’s truck and promptly freak out. Upon arriving at the Morgans farm, Reg’s brother Lindsay ties the three up in the barn, where they are to become the secret ingredient that makes the Morgan Brothers’ fertilizer so locally renowned.
100 Bloody Acres is a hoot. An Australian horror comedy that gets the balance spot-on, it evokes ‘80s American ‘hicksploitation’ films such as Motel Hell and The Corpse Grinders with its central idea of humans as ingredients. Also, scenes in which we see the brothers’ method of processing the bodies are strongly reminiscent of under-seen 1987 slasher Slaughterhouse. Rather than encouraging thoughts of unoriginality though, the recognisable conventions anchor the film in a familiar place, leaving it free to explore its own idiosyncrasies.
The debut feature from director siblings Colin and Cameron Cairnes, 100 Bloody Acres marks them as ones to watch. Remarkably confident in their visual approach, the brothers drift far from their schlocky influences with a diverse arsenal of creative shots. Sweeping camera moves drink in the outback scenery, and characters are shot from various distances, but never with searing close-ups to accentuate their suffering. No run-of-the-mill low budget horror comedy, this film about two brothers, made by two brothers, evokes the work of two far more established brothers. The comedy relies on askew characters and an overall tone instead of actual jokes in a similar manner to Fargo or Raising Arizona, and Lindsay is a gruff psychopath who would seem very at home in a Coen Brothers flick. There’s also a focus on the differing whereabouts of various severed body parts which would no doubt tickle the Coen’s funny bones. The film has a remarkably relaxed and free flowing feel to it, and features well-written characters which continue to surprise until the credits roll.
The comedy is not just dark, but tragic. Despite his actions in the opening scene (Reg steals a body from a roadside accident), it is obvious that Reg is no monster, his inner conflict visible in his eyes; he does not want to harm anyone, but feels resigned to his fate. Infusing the character with a naive sweetness, actor Damon Herriman is something of a revelation. There is a desperation and childlike anxiety to Reg, Herriman’s portrayal at times nothing short of heartbreaking. Gripped with confusion and nerves as Lindsay yells at him to shoot Wes, Reg mouths the words to the Morgans Organic ad which is playing on the radio; an ad which he has been truly excited to hear. Reg sees the good in people, and has a love of life which is suppressed by his bullying and controlling big brother. We only see his true, carefree self in fact, when he is away from Lindsay. He seems happiest when driving his truck, singing along to the seventies Aussie country songs on the radio.
There are flipsides to the other characters too. Wes embodies the grating self-righteousness and pretentiousness of a well-travelled, self-proclaimed ‘free spirit’, and is sleeping with Sophie behind James’ back. He drops acid in the back of Reg’s truck and as he comes up, he begins to get more and more likeable. Initially the caring, kind nice guy, James on the other hand reveals himself to be a petty, pathetic prick. Leading the pack, Anna McGahan’s Sophie is just awesome. Riding in the front of the truck with Reg, she sings along to the radio with him and surprises him by telling him she’s a country girl. Though she initially offends his innocent, outback sensibilities with the confusion surrounding her relationship status, the film judges her far less harshly. She corrects Reg (who thought she was a “city slu- uh, slicker”), explaining that she’s just not ready to settle down with James, and even he lets go of his learnt misogyny.
Despite nods to American hillbilly horror and a tone comfortable for Coens fans, 100 Bloody Acres is no homage or ripoff, and stands clear above other recent backwoods comedy splatterfests. With beautifully written characters and a casually breezy, but ominously skewed tone, it is a truly exciting feature debut from the Cairnes brothers. The climax would arguably benefit from going a little further, bringing more nutty excess to outdo the most splatterific death, which comes halfway through the film. As it is though, the ending more than satisfies, rounding off a skilfully structured film. One of the best horror comedies in years, 100 Bloody Acres has its own thing going on and like its brothers’ fertilizer, is elevated from the pack due to an extra special ingredient.
Words: Kevan Farrow