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March 2011

Gnaw

cast: Sara Dylan, Rachel Mitchem, Julia Vandoorne, and Hiriam Bleetman

director: Gregory Mandry

90 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
4 Digital Media DVD Region 2

RATING: 4/10
review by Mark West




Gnaw poster
Gnaw
SPOILER ALERT!
Six friends decide to go away for a leisurely break in the Suffolk countryside, with no other plans in mind than walking, drinking and having plenty of sex. Of the two couples, Ed (Hiriam Bleetman) and Hannah (Julia Vandoorne) are frisky, happy and ready for a laugh; whilst Jill (Rachel Mitchem) and Jack (Nigel Croft-Adams) have a more frosty relationship. This is explained when it's revealed that Lorrie (Sara Dylan) is pregnant with Jack's child, though only they know it. Rounding out the party is Matt (Oliver Lee Squires), an asthmatic who has an unrequited love for Lorrie. They are staying at Blackstock Farm, where their host Mrs Obadiah (Carrie Cohen) has prepared them a lot of home-cooked pies (Hannah finds a knot of hair in one but no-one thinks to stop eating). But there's somebody else lurking, a character, who looks remarkably like Zinedine Zidane, called the Slaughterman (Gary Faulkner) and he picks off the friends one by one.

Now before I start, I feel I need - in light of the low rating - to explain myself. I love low budget films, I love horror films, I love British films but, with all that in mind, I'm not so caught up that I can't see the wood for the trees. Yes, this is a low-budget Brit horror and yes, it does have a lot of plus points, but sadly the negative issues far out-weigh them.

After a genuinely gripping pre-credits sequence - where the Slaughterman chases, catches and guts Amy (Jennifer Wrenn) and a listing of missing persons over the credits - though it quickly becomes clear only three people are being shown - this settles into an odd mishmash. The young actors all do good jobs, the relationships all seem to have life and colour and yet they're sometimes forced to do things that don't make sense. Why does Lorrie accept that a music-box in her room has gone missing? Why does she sleepwalk? Why, when they find human hair and a fingernail in the home-cooked meat pies, do they keep eating them? And as suspension of disbelief starts to fail, the viewer realises he's watching a Texas Chainsaw Massacre clone, set in rural Suffolk. And then things really start to unravel.

Whilst it works relatively well, if you don't think too hard about it, it's not a bad little film - it's got a good pace, the direction is tidy (though let down by the quality of the image - it's digital, but not brilliant - which often renders things out of focus) - but once you start to think about the plot holes, they become too big to ignore and just seem sloppy.

The Slaughterman, who neither speaks nor is spoken to during the film so we only get that name from the credits, isn't a particularly menacing killer, even though he walks around with a skin mask on (which seems to be a sheep or rabbit, it's hard to tell) and kills people with a pitchfork and does his butchery whilst they're still alive. But he doesn't seem to get a thrill out of it, so he just comes across as a simple soul who's doing what he's told to do. In spite of being mute and not looking particularly clean, he also serves in a roadside burger van, which looks hygienic and tidy and has a nicely printed menu and is obviously seen - and presumably checked - by the police and local authorities.

Nobody gets that Mrs Obadiah (and Carrie Cohen clearly believes herself to be in a modern Hammer film, going quite a good way over the top) is the brains of the operation, cooking the pies and running the B&B to get people there for the Slaughterman to kill. But why would she do it? There's no inference made that she and he (her son?) are cannibals, so what joy do they get out of serving unwitting passers-by and tourists? The Slaughterman doesn't even seem to get a thrill out of killing, so who benefits?

Characters lose key senses when it suits the film. Hannah and Ed decide to have a shag in the middle of a field, as you do and she blindfolds herself. Ed goes off, the killer comes up and she doesn't realise that a) he stinks to high heaven, b) his touch is completely different to Ed, and c) he's a different body shape. Later, when Jill is hiding from the killer, he literally stands right on top of her but can't smell her when she's clean and obviously wearing perfume and/ or deodorant.

Matt is chased by the killer at one point and succeeds, somehow, in stabbing him. He then has a choice - stab the killer again and finish him off or lean over the body that he isn't sure is dead to pick up his inhaler. Guess which Matt does? Guess what happens to Matt? But the biggest 'huh?' moment happens right at the end - when the pregnant Lorrie, whom the Slaughterman seems to have a crush on, is the last person standing. The screen goes black, the title card comes up 'one year later' and we see the killer preparing some meat. He walks across the farmyard and goes into a room where a cot is set up. He blends the organs and blood he has, slops it into a cup and feeds it to the baby because - shock horror - he's got Lorrie's child.

Maybe it's because I'm a father, maybe it's because I think about things, maybe it's because - I don't know - I assume everything has an internal logic but seriously, what the hell is going on there? You're telling me that the killer manages to capture Lorrie and keep her alive (whilst not being able to talk), dispose of his mum and the other bodies and run his burger van, then let Lorrie have the baby - without, we presume, any medical intervention - and nobody notices or comes to see where the friends are? After this, he becomes a perfectly capable and able father, feeding his child raw meat and those final shots, in all their stupid glory, lost this film the star that would have made it worthwhile.

Of the rest, the music is good and the music-box motif works well through the film. The production design isn't good - why is it that cannibals decide to keep bloody body parts just lying around, why wouldn't they have a tidy up every now and again - and the special effects are minimal (for a film about cannibals, called Gnaw, this is remarkably coy about showing blood-loss).

Having said all this, if you fancy a bit of fun, the credits are hysterical. Everyone gets a credit for every job they did, one per line, so the same person can appear again and again. Credits are blocked by unit - Dorking Unit/ Eastbourne Unit/ A30 Unit - but all feature the same names and then the credit for props includes Jewsons and Tesco! Brilliant! I hope everyone involved in this goes on to bigger and better films, as there was a lot of talent there and I'd love to be able to recommend this as a cracking little low-budget horror film, but I just can't.



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