Sometimes simple is better. After roughly four decades of slasher movies, there’s probably not much else that can be done with the subgenre. But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with just a straightforward ‘stalk and slash’ movie. Case in point, the 2017 limited release, Pitchfork. With a generic horror movie title and some equally run-of-the-mill promotional material, one might dismiss Pitchfork as another Grade-Z slasher knock-off. Fortunately, Pitchfork is of a straightforward approach to a subgenre that still works.
After confiding to his conservative parents that he’s gay, Hunter returns to his small farm home. Except he hasn’t come alone. Along for personal support, several of Hunter’s big city friends have joined him for the rural getaway. Though Hunter’s father and friends immediately clash, he reluctantly allows the outlandish group to have a barn dance. But things quickly go awry when a local legend proves to be all too real.
Pitchfork Does A Lot With A Little and a Familiar Story
At its heart, Pitchfork is really just another slasher movie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Director Glenn Douglas Packard – making his directorial debut – clearly has an affection for the subgenre. And in a pleasant change of pace, Packard doesn’t do the whole retro ‘VHS look’. Instead, Packard uses a more contemporary, crisper filming style. And what’s particularly impressive is the extent to which Pitchfork never looks low-budget or ‘cheap’. In fact, Packard shows some flair and style, which elevates Pitchfork over most VOD slasher movies you’ll find. On several occasions, he cleverly works around budgetary limitations to deliver some brutal death scenes and a few creepy moments.
…Pitchfork never looks low-budget or ‘cheap’.
No, you won’t really find much innovation in the death scenes themselves. As compared to ‘Golden Era’ slasher movies, which reveled in showing you bodily dismemberment, Pitchfork keeps this stuff offscreen for the most part. However, you will find a much more interesting ‘killer’ design here than in most slasher movies. The ‘why’ and ‘how’ is a bit muddled. Packard plays a little fast and loose with his killer’s origins, which may leave viewers confused or, worse, dissatisfied. There’s a also a few needlessly hokey scenes, including an obviously choreographed barn dance, that tampers with the movie’s mood.
Pitchfork Fumbles Early Story Subtext With Leftfield Final Act
While the slasher movie has been done ad nauseam at this point, recent horror movies have ways to inject the basic setup with new ideas. Packard and Daryl F Gariglio hint at some promising subtext early in Pitchfork. Historically, the horror genre hasn’t offered much for the queer horror fan community. As such, Pitchfork’s premise of a recently outed gay man returning to visit his conservative parents held a lot of promise. To some extent, Pitchfork delivers early on this promise. Brian Raetz’s ‘Hunter’ eschews toxic stereotypes; he’s a relatable character with some depth given it’s a slasher movie. An interaction with his mother delivers a clearly supportive message.
As Pitchfork hits its final act, however, the story takes a hard detour into very tonally different territory.
But Pitchfork eventually sets aside this character arc to focus on the slasher basics. It’s not so much that the idea is forgotten as it’s discarded to get to the blood, murder, and stalking. As Pitchfork hits its final act, however, the story takes a hard detour into very tonally different territory. Things take a turn into ‘Torture Porn’ territory, which feels misplaced in the movie. What follows is less fun, gory kills and more just ugly violence. Everything then adds on a rather strange note that’s not necessarily dissatisfying, but certainly odd.
Pitchfork An Uneven But Promising Slasher
In spite of some unevenness, particularly with its weak final act, Pitchfork largely works. It’s a well-paced, straightforward slasher movie that exceeds expectations showing the subgenre still works when done right. Moreover, first-time director Packard shows a lot of promise. Pitchfork’s lower budget never constrains Packard as finds several creative ways to capture shots. It’s impressive how good the movie looks for what’s an indie slasher movie. A few missed story opportunities don’t detract too much for what’s an overall brutally effective slasher.