A terrifying supernatural thriller in which a group of college friends on a road trip find themselves fighting off dark forces at a remote farmhouse after a chance encounter with a strange little girl.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Five college students are road tripping their way to a music festival when they come across a pedestrian (in this case a little girl) who needs dropping at their creepy house. Upon arriving at said house, they find that all is not what it seems and before long they are stalked by crazed killers who are intent on committing ritual murder to appease dark forces.
The Culling, directed by Rustam Branaman, is a supernatural horror film by numbers. The five stereotypical students are comprised of Emily – nice girl (Elizabeth DiPrinzio), Tyler – nice boy (Jeremy Sumpter), Sean – aggressive jock (Brett Davern), Hank – joker (Chris Coy) and Amanda the hot girl who is fresh out of rehab (Linsey Godfrey).
On their way to the SXSW festival, they come across a spooky little girl called Lucy (Harley Graham) who is out in the middle of nowhere and in need of a lift home. When they arrive at the house and after a brief tour of the homestead they meet worried parents Val (Virginia Williams) and Wayne (Johnathon Schaech) who blame Lucy’s grandpa for her being alone. The parents invite the five friends in and everything is going swimmingly, apart from the strange noises and mutilated dolls which talk to Lucy. It’s only when Val is injured in a wood cutting accident and the students are left on their own that they get more than they bargained for and the bodycount begins to increase.
Although the college kids are cookie cutter victims, Amanda throws something different into the mix. She has just been discharged from a rehabilitation centre and this influences how seriously her friends take her. There was a similar character in the remake of The Evil Dead but Amanda is less angry and more fragile. Due to her predicament, the character of Amanda was the most convincing of the students with Hank being a close second and both were heads and shoulders above their twenty-something co-stars.
The good guys do nothing to make the audience care about them and their acting got worse as the film progressed. They all say and do such stupid things which no one with an ounce of sense would, with Tyler being the worst culprit. At one point, an inhuman, demonic noise can be heard through a slowly cracking wall and Tyler asks, “Is that you Amanda??”. Of course it isn’t! Tyler also tries to save the day by attempting to walk 20 miles to the nearest town while his friend slowly bleeds to death from a gunshot wound to the gut. It’s just not what normal thinking people would do.
However, Val and Wayne are great psycho killers. Wayne is cool, calm and collected through his scenes, whether being homely with the victims or stalking them down, while Val is a bit more of a loose cannon and wears her sick enjoyment on her face. Lucy is the typical creepy child but Harley Graham goes above and beyond the part, toeing the line naturally between innocent daydream and demonic nightmare, and I really hope she goes on to bigger and better things.
The camerawork in The Culling is fine for a budget film and Rustam Branaman doesn’t try to add any unnecessary artsy elements, apart from the music videos at the start of the movie. I was worried that the band featured in the video and on the road trip would keep making an appearance as they weren’t to my personal taste but, thankfully, they are long forgotten by the time Lucy arrives home. The special effects are provided by “Darth Sidious” and I can only think that a pseudonym was used because the effects weren’t very special. There are some brief uses of blood, bodies and moving objects but the majority of the aforementioned effects come in the form of a black CGI smoke demon which has all the hallmarks of low budget horror movie. One standout moment, however, is when (spoiler alert!) Emily has a showdown with Wayne and finishes him off in a rather imaginative manner.
Overall, The Culling is incredibly predictable yet ambiguous mess which is left down further by unconvincing acting. There are too many elements which are either left unanswered or simply don’t make sense. Is the black smoke demon the thing who Wayne is “creating” an army of children for? How come Amanda is convulsing and mute at one point and then she’s fine to run for help the next? I really wanted to like The Culling but what should have been no brain, popcorn fodder ends up trying to be too many things and achieving none.