Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Audrey Cummings
Writer: Chris Gamble
Producer: Audrey Cummings, Bruno Marino
Stars: Alysa King, Samora Smallwood, Bart Rochon, Aaron Chartrand, Robert Nolan, Madison Ferguson, Christophe Gallander, Leo Pady
A babysitter left alone to watch two children in an isolated mansion on Halloween night is tormented by three intruders wearing pig masks.
NOTE: "Berkshire County" was retitled "Tormented" as a companion film to "Torment" (review here) for home video distribution in the United States.
The initial thought springing to mind following the Shriekfest screening of “Berkshire County” was that the movie was good enough for what it was, but there was no doubt that the impression left was dulled from the feeling of having been done dozens of times already. When the film won the festival’s award for Best Horror Feature, and drew favorable comments from various sources via social media the next day, I found myself not second guessing my less enthusiastic opinion, but giving greater pause towards how to approach my own review.
The objective of film criticism is to offer a personal opinion while giving the reader enough information to independently evaluate whether or not the movie might suit his/her tastes. In considering how to rate a film, various factors are weighed including filmmaker experience, production scope, and target audience. In the case of “Berkshire County,” it’s this last one that erects a wall separating disparate opinions on the film’s resonating entertainment value.
To me, “Berkshire County” is merely an okay film. I also happen to be someone who generally watches at least one horror movie every single day. So I see derivative staples like a babysitter alone on Halloween night, Cult of Thorn arm brands, and silent home invaders clad in creepy masks and I don’t know whether to sigh or to yawn. But for someone who maybe doesn’t have a daily overdose of similar films such as “The Strangers,” “You’re Next” (review here) or “Torment” (review here) nagging in the back of his/her head, “Berkshire County” might be downright terrific.
Kylie Winters is her high school’s designated shy girl with self-esteem issues. She is also ridiculously sexy in her Little Red Riding Hood outfit when she takes up a post against the wall at a classmate’s costume party. Bad boy Marcus can’t help but notice the same thing. He convinces a reluctant Kylie to drop to her knees and a video of the entire affair soon goes viral faster than a Susan Boyle sonata.
Slut shamed, shunned, and ridiculed, Kylie’s isolation takes physical form when an October 31st babysitting gig finds her spending the evening watching over two youngsters in a mazelike mansion situated in a remote area outside town. A pint-sized trick-or-treater in a pig mask comes to the door with a palm open for a free candy handout. To either side of him are pig-masked adults with fists clenched on blade hilts. She doesn’t know who, and she doesn’t know why, but Kylie’s night is about to get a whole lot worse.
Almost hidden in the “any similarities to real people, living or dead…” disclaimer of the end credits is an “inspired by actual events” tag. “The Strangers” had one too, and since I doubt anything as specific as a trio of animal-faced intruders tormented a babysitter on Halloween night, I’d wager the extent of that “true story” involves a straight home invasion and little more.
“Berkshire County” has a hard time getting its feet moving. Act one is occupied by breaking down Kylie with her situation at school so she can be rebuilt into a confident heroine by the story’s end. As Kylie, actress Alysa King makes for a fine Final Girl. But the script constructs her character in a roundabout way while scenes bounce between exploring her personality and putting the premise in play. It’s a clunky setup that finally finds its stride once the piglets at last knock on the door.
While “Berkshire County” does expend more time than necessary with skulking about and hiding in shadows, those who have not yet had their fill of home invasion horror will have plenty of chances to chew their nails and wear out seat cushion edges. The frustrated tension that comes from watching killers without purpose torment without explanation pops from every corner once the action starts cooking.
Truth is, “Berkshire County” is such a straightforward story that there isn’t much else to say. It’s simple, yet effective, which is simultaneously the film’s boon as well as its Achilles Heel.
It occurs to me while thinking about “Berkshire County” that first-time feature filmmakers in low-budget indie horror are often caught in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t predicament. As mentioned earlier, a plot involving a lonesome babysitter, Halloween night, a remote mansion, and masked intruders is enough to make any seasoned horror cynic shrug shoulders with apathy. At the same time, it could be considered unfair to expect freshman director Audrey Cummings to bite off any more than she can chew. After all, while it might not be the audience’s first time around this block, it is hers. “Berkshire County” may be redundant, but it’s difficult to fault Cummings and company for smartly choosing a simple way to warm their feet in the genre.
NOTE: There is a brief post-credits scene.
Review Score: 65