Sunday, 14 December 2014


Berkshire County is one of those festival films that seems to be picking up a steady stream of Best Picture awards. As the positive word of mouth built, I knew it was a film that I had to sit down with ASAP.
After a quick chat with the film’s extremely busy director, Audrey Cummings, I found myself eagerly waiting on access to the film. After a whistle-stop tour of even more festivals (and even more awards) Ms Cummings was able to hook me up with Berkshire County. Was it worth the wait? Read on...


Dir: Audrey Cummings
Starring: Alysa King, Aaron Chartrand, Madison Ferguson, Cristophe Gallander, Samora Smallwood, Bart Rochon, Leo Pady

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.

The story of weak-willed, easily bullied teen Kylie (King), Berkshire County opens with a degrading and deplorable act at a pre-Halloween house party by fellow high school student (and massive shit) Marcus (Chartrand).
Her reputation and school-life in tatters, Kylie agrees to babysit two young children, Sam (Gallander) and Phoebe (Ferguson) at their parents’ beautiful mansion on Halloween night.
However, as the night draws in, the isolation of this idyllic home leads to terror when mysterious and malevolent, pig-masked trick-or-treaters come calling. Torn between saving herself or protecting the children in her care, the night turns into a spine-chilling game of cat-and-mouse as Kylie tries to work out what her assailants are after… and how to stop them.

BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): 
Long-term readers of this blog will know I love a good ‘home invasion’ horror film. Berkshire County is a VERY good home invasion horror film. Feeling a lot like a horrifying hybrid of The Strangers crossed with Drew Barrymore’s opening scene in Scream, Berkshire County is scary as hell. It takes a good old-fashioned horror tradition, the lone babysitter in a creepy, remote setting and runs with it.
There will undoubtedly be comparisons made with You’re Next, after all both are home invasion flicks featuring animal masked antagonists, but this is unfair. This feels far more like a slasher movie from the genre’s heyday, not working in self-aware humour or desperately trying to confound your expectations with convention-defying plot twists, Berkshire County takes its subject matter and plays it straight… to often devastating effect.
However, the bare-bones storyline doesn't mean that the film is under-written — far from it. A well as a genuinely great plot twist later on in the film, there is some fantastic characterisation, most notably in our lead. Calling Kylie weak is a massive understatement, she is a complete pushover. This means that when the pigs close in you feel the threat all the more — she can't even protect herself at school, what chance does she stand when psychotic raiders come calling? Of course, this acts to give us a steep, yet never unbelievable character arc for her. It is incredibly clever storytelling. 
Kylie is brought to life with a great performance by King. Doe-eyed and sympathetic, the attractive King is perfect for the role, bringing a fragility to the part early in the film, yet capably adding a layer of steel for the film's conclusion.
King isn't the only one to nail her role. The pigs are fantastic, each bringing a different type of threat to the role. From the seemingly harmless but homicidal little Piglet, to the unhinged and sadistic Pig Out to the impressive Rochon's imposing and brutish Swine, they are nightmarish cinematic creations. 
I also want to credit Chartrand's performance — within moments of his character appearing onscreen I wanted to punch him in the face, so clearly he was doing his job properly! His is the sort of character you love to hate and one you just PRAY will receive a grisly comeuppance later in the film.
As well as these great performances, Berkshire County is marvellously shot and directed. Cummings obviously knows her stuff, framing scenes with ominous empty space or using claustrophobic close camerawork perfectly to keep the audience on their toes. The sets are well designed for an array of setpiece scares and Cummings shoots each one for optimum effect.
Finally I really want to praise the film's ending. Talk about going balls-out with the intensity! As well as hinting at a bigger story (there are still plenty of unanswered questions), credit has to go to Cummings and her crew for throwing the shit well and truly into the fan. With a suggestion that a sequel could be taking the route of other classic horror titles, it once again combines the home invasion and slasher sub-genres marvellously.

WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): 
These are nitpicks rather than serious flaws. As a home invasion style film, Berkshire County does suffer with the same problems of many of its peers. Horror is one of those genres that require substantial suspension of disbelief and, realistically, even in a mansion of this size, there is only so long that one woman and two children could remain undiscovered by numerous assailants. However, this is one of those things that you can be convinced to overlook because the tense, lengthy cat-and-mouse section of the film is so damn entertaining!
On a similar note, there is a highly improbable chance reunion late on in the film that isn't given a sufficiently convincing explanation. A throwaway line of dialogue could easily have explained it and made it seem less random. With that in mind, I'm going to assume the reason is just unspoken, especially as it leads to a couple of the picture's most thoroughly satisfying moments!
Finally, I thought that while the characterisation throughout was pretty damn good, I just felt that too few of the characters were likeable. Obviously the pigs and Marcus were never designed to be good guys, but nobody else really filled the void. Kylie's school friends all seem pretty dickish, the Harrisons  (whose children she is watching) come across as a bore and a bitch and her mother's angry lack of sympathy is definitely not cool. Even Kylie starts the flick as such a sap that you want to shake her! Luckily, the sympathy evoked by everybody else's general unpleasantness gives you a good reason to root for her long before she grows a backbone to fight back against her porcine pursuers. 
Of course, these are all just my opinion and I imagine there will be plenty of people that have no such problems with what is a pretty damn great film.

VERDICT: Well, I'll just come out with it — Berkshire County is awesome. I can completely understand why it has picked up so many awards and predict plenty more on the horizon.
Feeling like a respectful throwback to the slasher classics of years gone by blended with the modern sensibilities of the home invasion movies of today, it combines old-fashioned horror tropes (a lone babysitter, an isolated mansion, sadistic and relentless masked boogeymen) with some very modern trappings (a viral video causing Kylie's downfall at the onset of the film and a mobile phone that actually works after the going gets bloody!)
The clever story-telling, artful direction, cracking performances and some serious scares make Berkshire County a late contender for horror film of the year. I thoroughly recommend that you check it out.
Luckily, my UK-based readers can do just that at the Horror-on-Sea Festival in Southend in January. If you can't make it, watch this space for news on a DVD/Blu-ray release. In the meantime, why not head over to Berkshire County's official Facebook page and hit them with a Like. They totally deserve your love and if it helps get a sequel made, even better!

If you haven’t already, do please check out and like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to!
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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