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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Thursday, 29 October 2009 00:00|
Offspring is clearly a low budget film. Its entire cast totals barely a dozen actors. Locations are limited, and the majority of the action plays out in a dark forest and a single cave. The cinematography for much of the first half of the film is mundane, the dialogue is mediocre, and the performances largely forgettable. All of these elements could be viewed as limitations, yet, as the narrative unravels, and the levels of horror multiple, the film undeniably works. It is, perhaps, because the straight scenes are so mundane that the horror sequences in the later half seem all the more gripping.
The film, with a screenplay adapted by horror writer Jack Ketchum from his novel of the same name, is set in Maine near the Canadian/American border. It tells the tale of a family who is attacked, kidnapped, and terrorized by a clan of feral, forest dwelling cannibals. A former sheriff, George Peters, is brought in by the local police to track down the clan, having dealt with them decades before. Peters is played by well known Canadian actor Art Hindle (Paradise Falls, MVP, Canadian Case Files, North of 60) and while he is ostensibly the protagonist of the piece, all the real drama plays out in the cannibals' cave, where their victims are brought and tortured.
The torture sequences cover some of the same ground as Hostel and its imitators, and, like Hostel, the torture sequences work because in additional to the visceral terror they invoke, the film's violence functions as an exploration of social issues and the psychological conditions of the human psyche.
In the early portion of the film, the cannibals, walking around half naked in quasi-cavemen clothing, seem almost goofy. Especially when juxtaposed with the straight-laced middle class family, the feral clan seem almost like something out of another movie. It is only when they kidnap the family, inducting the middle class characters into the world of nonsensical horror in which the clan exists, that the similarities between the two groups begin to appear, and the two films merge into one. As the desperate instinct for survival takes over, the middle class characters reveal themselves to be capable of levels of savagery rivalling that of the cannibals.
What would you be capable of in order to protect your family and friends from attackers? What sorts of feral violent impulses do you keep hidden just below the surface of your modern urban façade? If you were forced at knife point to breast feed a feral infant, would you clutch it to your breast or throw it to the ground? These aren't easy questions to answer because the very ideas of the situations they are predicated upon are so horrific.
That is why Offspring is so successful in its generation of horror. Not because the actors deliver great performances, the production design is in any way memorable, the gun fights griping, or the dialogue engrossing. Rather, this film succeeds because of the strength of the ideas being explored. It is a film filled with the sorts of ideas that send a shiver down your spine at the mere thought of them. The sort of ideas that you can't shake from your mind until long after the film is completed.
Stephen King calls Jack Ketchum "the scariest man in America." If Offspring is any indication of what Ketchum is made of, it is easy to see why.
Offspring was released on DVD in Canada on Oct 6, 2009.
Tags: art hindle, cannibals, cinema, gore, horror, horror week, jack ketchum, offspring, review, stephen king