Berkshire County (2014) – Audrey Cummings

 

Opening theatrically today in Toronto (The Carlton), Ottawa (Landmark Kanata) and Whitby (Landmark Cinemas 24 Whitby) with more to follow in the coming weeks is this horror thriller that wowed them on the festival circuit and took home Best Feature from LA’s Shriekfest. Taking its cues from the John Carpenter classic Halloween, as well as films like When a Stranger Calls, and House of the Devil, Cummings sets up a terrifying adventure, that has no real new ground to explore (as the genre, after all, has been fairly played out) but she and her star, Alysa King own that ground as strongly and boldly as Carpenter ever did in 1978, filling their film with real chills, thrills and reveals.

Cummings, working with Chris Gamble’s enjoyable script, puts King through her paces as Kylie in this updated take on the babysitter-vs-the-psychos horror subgenre, paces that King is more than ready for, turning in a fantastic performance. Kylie’s life has imploded after an unwanted, and taped sexual encounter with Marcus (Aaron Chartrand) at a Halloween party. The video goes viral at her high school, destroying her reputation as bullying and taunting ensue, and Kylie loses any self-confidence she may have had.

Finding no empathy or sympathy from her mother (Josee Young), Kylie leaves the house that night to babysit for the Harrisons in their rather palatial mansion in Berkshire County (watch for a rather quick appearance by Toronto fave Robert Nolan here, as well as a really creepy van and masked figure). Introduced to her two wards for the evening Phoebe (Madison Ferguson) and Sam (Cristophe Gallander), and full credit here to both these young actors and the director, as it’s often tough to elicit natural acting from children, but these two were exemplary.

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As darkness falls, and the children are toddled off to bed after a game of hide and seek, things take a much darker turn, as shaming emails begin to populate Kylie’s inbox, troubling phone calls are received, and creepy pig masks are seen in the window before an all out mental and physical assault begins on Kylie.

The night pushes her to her limits, as she reclaims her power, waiting desperately for the arrival of the police who have been dispatched by a 911 operator, Roberta (Samora Smallwood), who tries to stay on the line with her through the course of the film. Things come to a head in a final confrontation that is brutal, scary and brilliantly executed, leading into an ending that (no spoilers) sets up the possibility of a sequel with a nod to its Carpenter forbearer.

Cumming’s film is tightly paced, emotionally driven, intensely gripping and filled with terrifying reveals – I was literally talking to the screen asking it to please give this poor girl a break, only to see things get ratcheted up a notch.

Amidst the summer popcorn fare, this one makes for a delightful breath of fresh air, evading predictable plot points, while paying homage to horror film tropes with a lovely and able star, a terrifying baddie, and a taut script, all overseen by a director at the top of her form.

Berkshire County opens today, check your local listings and go out and see a highly entertaining Canadian film!

Check out the trailer below!

 

 

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