Review by Joey Keogh
Dir: Drew Casson
Written By: Drew Casson, Jess Cleverly
Starring: Georgia Bradley, Sam Carter, Drew Casson
UK release: 3 May 2014 (Sci Fi London Film Festival)
A group of university students’ quiet lives in a small town are forever changed as they discover, while filming a video diary, that their fellow inhabitants have been compromised by an unknown, deadly assailant, which causes them to attack anyone in sight.
Following well-received, wonderfully disturbing found footage shocker The Borderlands, the confusingly-titled Hungerford (where?) grabs the shaky cam and places it not-so-firmly in the hands of a group of hapless uni students, headed by affable main man Cowen (writer/director Drew Casson), as they’re forced into action when their hometown is overrun by bloodthirsty lunatics.
Considering newcomer Casson takes both writing and directing credits here, along with a starring role – as a student rushing to create a video diary as part of his final project – one would expect Hungerford to be a vanity project. Happily, this is a wonderfully inventive, clever and surprisingly original slice of British horror that, for the most part, balances its rather large aspirations quite well. Essentially a large scale project on a relatively tight budget, the film is buoyed by some great camera tricks, convincing, often practical SFX and a brilliant cast of newcomers.
Set mostly in the titular town – a wonderful location in itself, utilised to create a great sense of claustrophobia and foreboding – where the protagonists reside in a suitably shitty student house, the film starts off as a run-of-the-mill video diary, detailing Cowen’s everyday life. When events take a turn, it quickly devolves into something entirely different as he gravely intones that they mustn’t stop recording no matter what, even strapping a camera to his chest in a smart move that counteracts the usually problematic found footage angle.
At the film’s core are the interpersonal relationships between the group of friends, and thankfully their banter, arguments and, crucially, their reactions when things go to shit are well thought-out and realistic – at times, the dialogue is painfully real, such as when Cowen and Phil (a hugely likeable Georgia Bradley, as the token girl) discuss what it is they’re actually doing with their lives. With no score to speak of, the tension and atmosphere are created by the cast, along with a few well-placed explosions in the sky, and some crunchy breakouts of bloody violence.
The makeup effects (by Frederica Vergana Bullough) are particularly good throughout, while the digital elements (also by Casson) are understandably lacking at times, but impressively ambitious nonetheless, especially in one particular shot towards the end. For the most part, Casson chooses to hint instead of outright show. Even so, the creature design is excellent, as is their lair, which is glimpsed briefly in a nail-bitingly intense finale sequence, culminating in a quick shot of the villain that is more frightening than a million jump scares put together.
The method by which victims are rid of the creatures is wonderfully simple, allowing for a brilliant sequence in a supermarket, which is shot mostly by torchlight and elicits some of the scariest moments in the film – to its credit, most of the action takes place in daylight, which is brave for this kind of feature. A proudly low budget affair, Hungerford gets around its modest parameters with some neat camera tricks, particularly utilising glitches reminiscent of one of the weaker V/H/S components.
Here, though, the glitches are effectively jarring, as they signal something dark is afoot so the characters don’t have to fill in the blanks. As this is a shaky-cam, found footage affair, the cuts in the narrative are jammed in at times, but this is to be expected and, in a lot of ways, it saves the flick from sagging in the middle, when it’s slightly more dialogue-heavy. Considering it’s less than 80 minutes long, there’s no time to hang around, and not a second of screen-time is wasted.
The camera is a character in itself, present throughout and never ignored. The characters hate that it’s there, they despise being filmed and when the first blast hits, it’s felt through the camera. It takes a beating too, as blood splatters on it, the lens is cracked, and a creature even runs across it at one stage. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into how to rethink the overused format, and Casson is to be applauded for everything he does to make it feel fresh and new – he even utilises some grainy iPhone footage. In most cases, it’s better to imagine a flick of this nature as anything other than found footage, but here, it works remarkably well.
The performances are universally great, with Carter, Bradley and Casson himself particularly noteworthy for how understated they are, and for the life they breathe into these hugely likeable characters. They look like normal twenty-somethings, and it’s easy to root for them throughout, because they feel like real friends. The script crackles with black humour, with several noteworthy lines, most of which are delivered by likeable nerd Kipper (Sam Carter) – when he turns up to find the others gathered around a bloodied corpse and proudly declares “I brought crumpets!” it’s just begging to be quoted over and over at the most inopportune moments.
This very British sense of humour fits the premise well, and it isn’t overdone, either. Kipper isn’t the token funny guy, everyone gets their moment to shine, and they are all visibly scared and upset in equal measure. These more human moments save Hungerford from languishing in the depressingly apocalyptic territory occupied by the likes of 28 Days Later, from which it draws inspiration. A deliberate reference to Shaun Of The Dead suggests that Casson intended for his film to occupy a similar space. However, it’s to his credit that, although it wears its influences on its sleeve, Hungerford has a creepy, inventive premise that is all its own.
Equal parts zombie flick, sci fi shocker, black comedy, and apocalyptic disaster movie, Hungerford is an impressively ambitious project with a huge amount of heart and passion behind it, that belies its modest budget. A funny, charming and highly inventive horror film with a distinctly British, very frightening central premise that is far more original than the majority of its mainstream counterparts, Hungerford deserves to be seen by as big an audience as possible, and will surely crawl under the skin and into the hearts of genre enthusiasts.