Maniac Farmer is not quite as manic as the awesome box art might suggest!
This cool little low-budget labour of love starts off in familiar slasher territory but takes an unusual deviation as the runtime moves on into psychological thriller territory, drawing clear inspiration from movies such as Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ and perhaps to a degree M. Night’s recent ‘Split’.
The official synopsis doesn’t do much to steer you away from thinking this is a typical no-brainer slasher either (so you will just have to trust me): “A group of street punks led by the murderous Blasphemous Rex meet their match when they choose to terrorize a seemingly helpless farmer who ends up turning the tides on the group, and the hunters become the hunted.”
The film’s opening act does indeed start fairly typical, the characters are pretty standard, but there’s some good writing to get the film into the groove and introduce us to them and their context. There is some violence as the titular farmer hones his craft as a would-be psychopath – my only criticism here is that Jake Roark, despite his imposing frame, just looks too nice of a guy to be the nutter his onscreen actions would have us believe; the same is true of the unlikely antagonist ‘Blasphemous Rex’, he’s far too eloquent to be the thug we are expected to believe he is.
There is the odd moment of violence early on, but expect to sit through more dialogue than carnage, a theme that would persist through the rest of the movie; as I said, it’s not quite as typical a slasher as you might expect.
In the films first half an hour there is actually quite a bit going on as we track the antics of several groups of characters. The street gang try really hard to be as obnoxious as possible, but don’t quite pull off the punk-vibe as much as say the gangs in ‘Return of the Living Dead’ or other 80s classics, there are the police that we know ultimately will be responsible for investigating the mounting body count these guys have some amusing dialogue to pass the screen time early on, and finally, there is ‘The Farmer’ whose actions speak louder than his limited words. Ultimately the films camera-time would be dominated first by ‘The Farmer’ as he turns the tables on the bullying gang and then the interesting mental breakdown of ‘Blasphemous Rex’.
The final half hour or so introduces an unusual layer into this would be slasher/thriller which some will no doubt find a refreshing change of direction to the usual body-count slasher. Writer/Director Matthew Williams writes a tight script, and whilst I felt that Rex’s breakdown was in-danger of getting a bit over-played, Tyler Caldwell manages to keep things (just about grounded) with his character having imaginary conversations with different layers of his psyche. As I said, not quite the expected payoff, but still, interesting.
The ending to shows that this film had some thought put into it, and clearly William’s wanted to ensure ‘Maniac Farmer’ held its own identity.
Overall, an interesting take on a well-trodden genre, the extent to which it appeals to you depends on how gory you insist your slashers be. It’s not psychological enough to appeal to anyone outside the genre fan-base, but kudos for giving something different a go. For me, well it held my attention for 71 minutes, but, yeah, I prefer my slashers violent.