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Film Review: Quarries (2016)

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SYNOPSIS:

To escape her abusive boyfriend, Kat joins a wilderness expedition with a group of women, all of whom are struggling with the uncertainty of life. What was supposed to be an opportunity for personal discovery quickly becomes a fight for survival, forcing each one to discover the strength within themselves that they didn’t even know they possessed. While being brazenly chased by a pack of predators, the strong quickly set themselves apart from the weak. In a battle of will, stamina, and heart, these very virtues present themselves at the most crucial moment. With death looming, each is left with what is truly important – the strength within oneself.

REVIEW:

Murderous hillbillies suck.

That’s not necessarily the overriding theme of the stalked-in-the-great-outdoors thriller Quarries, but it is certainly one takeaway…not to mention something on which nearly all of us can agree.

And it’s not a particularly new idea, either.

In fact, the homicidal hillbilly has a rich tradition in horror cinema. From the conventional (Deliverance) to the deformed (Wrong Turn) to the mutant (The Hills Have Eyes) to the undead (Cabin in the Woods), hillbillies of all varieties have terrorized camping teens, lost travelers, and nature lovers for decades. In many ways, the trope combines the chilling realism of human horror with the volatile savagery of a traditional monster…a combination that simultaneously plays on our fears of the “the other” while grounding the ensuing terror in the real world.

In Nils Taylor’s Quarries—which is sort of Deliverance meets The Descent­—a group of troubled and abused women on a get-back-to-nature-to-fix-your-life wilderness expedition find themselves hunted by a pack of predatory hillbillies intent on murdering them one-by-one. What starts off as an effort to shake up their lives by getting off the beaten path ends as a terrifying journey through a hostile environment and a fight for survival, with nobody to rely on but each other.

After a brief teaser establishing the nature of the film’s threat, Quarries quickly joins its group of soon-to-be-terrorized hikers as they make final preparations for their expedition. Quarries benefits from not dilly-dallying around before its introduction to its female leads, because the film’s greatest strength is those characters and the terrific performances that bring them to life.

Nicole Marie Johnson (Kat), Leisha Hailey, Sara Mornell, Carrie Finklea (Wren), Joy McElveen, Nicole DuPort, and Rebecca Colette McFadzien may be playing women in peril, but they uniformly make sure that their characters are not helpless victims. Across the board, these actresses deliver performances that balance strength with vulnerability; that traffic in subtlety and nuance; and that demonstrate that even in a hostile environment and in the midst of a struggle they had not bargained for, these women know how to fight back and take care of themselves.

Though an ensemble thriller, Quarries does give Nicole Marie Johnson not only top billing but what amounts here to the lead role, as well. Her Kat is just emerging from an abusive relationship, and the film follows her evolution from broken woman to avenging angel. Johnson pulls triple duty on Quarries—not only does she bring the lead role to life, but she also co-wrote and co-produced the film—but her multiple duties never detract from her poised, compelling performance.

Johnson co-wrote Quarries with Nils Taylor, another triple threat who directed, co-wrote, and co-produced the film. In addition to the 2015 feature Lights, Taylor has previously directed a number of highly-acclaimed shorts, and he and Johnson have collaborated on the web series #Besties. Taylor’s direction of Quarries is confident and sharp, maintaining both a strong focus on the characters and their evolving relationships with each other and a sense of mounting peril and dread. Similarly, Taylor’s camera alternates between admiring the gorgeous, plush backdrops of the film’s rural setting and transforming those same vistas into fearsome, foreboding landscapes that hide unspeakable terrors for his heroines.

Which brings us back to those horrifying hillbillies.

The relatively calm and business-like bearing of Taylor’s pack of feral villains imbues them with less panache than some of their more flamboyant hillbilly predecessors. Though they spit and growl and occasionally crawl like animals—just like you might expect them to—there is nothing particularly memorable or distinguishing about these redneck nasties. In some ways, though, that strengthens the film, allowing it to stay focused on its heroines, their plight, and the arc of their individual journeys.

When push comes to shove, Quarries is more thriller than horror—and perhaps even as much drama as thriller—but the high quality of the performances, the strength of the script, and the confident execution by the director and his team all combine to make Quarries an interesting, effective genre flick.

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