Berkshire County has been popping up at various film festivals for the better part of a year now. Generally speaking, it has gained (and continues to gain) positive praise at its various showings. Release news has been quiet, so color me surprised when I happened across the film on the Google Play Store masquerading under a different name with a painfully generic poster. Apparently the film is going by the title Tormented here in the United States, but don’t let the silly name and shoddy poster art scare you away, this trip to Berkshire County is absolutely one worth taking.
The film follows Kylie Winters (Alysa King); An everyday girl that finds herself in the focus of school-wide shenanigans after being filmed in a rather…compromising… position at a Halloween party. Disgraced and embarrassed, Kylie heads to the countryside of Berkshire County for a babysitting gig. Unfortunately, things aren’t going to be getting better anytime soon. A group of assailants in pig masks converge on the house; hellbent on abducting not only Kylie, but the children that she is babysitting. While that may seem like rather familiar and recycled territory, the “horror playbook” is followed to a tee; resulting in legitimate dread-filled tension and scares. Berkshire County is the feature film debut of Audrey Cummings, and she should be proud.
It’s not uncommon for set pieces to become characters themselves, and the fantasy-esque mansion that Kylie spends the evening in is no exception. Aside from looking insanely cool, the construction of the home allows for some unusual backdrops. These backdrops serve to keep the viewer off balance and guessing, but the sheer size of the home also makes the cat and mouse game between Kylie and the intruders a bit more plausible. This place is huge, and there are plenty of places to hide. But the house isn’t the only star here. Kylie and the children are fantastic. The pure terror that they are able to convey through facial expressions is impressive. Especially for Madison Ferguson and Cristophe Gallander. They are ridiculously cute and heartbreaking at the same time. So, hats off to those kiddos.
Production values are certainly a step above the average indie horror. The film is shot in a very close and intimate way, which makes the tension feel all the more effective. The sound is crisp and free of any cookie-cutter sound effects that litter many of the genre’s indie efforts. It’s not all great though. One of the men in pig masks actually sounds like a big scary pig monster. And while that’s creepy and everything, putting on a mask of an animal doesn’t necessarily give you the traits of that animal…right? There’s also a fair amount of CG blood mixed in with otherwise convincing practical effects. That’s a bummer, because the practical stuff looks wonderful, and makes it all the more jarring when a big fake spurt comes out of nowhere. These are minor gripes though, and don’t detract from the film’s successes in any major way.
The ending (or endings) wasn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been. There is a potential underworld culture of these abductions being carried out by members of a group that share the same branding on their skin. This is alluded to throughout the film, but just when you think they’re going to ride that whole subplot out in quiet dignity – BLAM – it gets shoved in your face in a major way. The final scene may or may not be reality – I suppose that will be up for you to decide. One thing is crystal clear though, make a date with Berkshire County….or Tormented…. or whatever it’s called in your region.It’s on a short list of standout horrors in 2015. You don’t want to miss it.
Berkshire County [Review]
While undoubtedly inspired by various horror classics, Berkshire County is able to sit within its own groove of slasher and home invasion excellence. It’s not groundbreaking in one way or the other, but it pays full respect to the genre that we all know and love. I hope to see Audrey Cummings return to horror. She’s definitely got an eye for it.