Blu-ray

{Blu Review} We Enjoy Your Suffering: The Barge People (2018)

When “satisfyingly gory” is the pull-quote that you muster for the front cover of your DVD, it’s clear that you’re making a certain kind of movie, intended to appeal to a certain kind of audience. I am – emphatically – not that audience.

So why did I end up reviewing the English Barge-Saw Massacre, aka The Barge People, from editor/producer/director Charlie Steeds, whose other credits include titles like Escape from Cannibal Farm? Mostly because the DVD cover also prominently features the fishier of the film’s mutant cannibals, so I was hoping for some monsters. And, mostly, got them.

That crack I made about the English Barge-Saw Massacre? That’s not just me attempting to be clever. This flick follows the story structure of Texas Chainsaw almost to the letter, swapping the barren heat haze of a Texas summer for a weekend barge trip along an English canal. In case the parallels aren’t obvious enough as you’re watching, its opening text crawl echoes TCM’s nearly exactly, including the same camera noises.

Courtesy RLJE

(Someone on Letterboxd who was more clever than I managed to be called it, “The Canals Have Eyes.” Of course, with the locale having been switched to England, it’s also impossible to deny that Leatherface and company already owed more than a little to the legends of Sawney Bean and his cannibal clan.)

It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but the canal setting is nice, even if it’s also entirely abandoned in the film’s final reel. And, for the most part, The Barge People looks good. Its well-shot and has a nice if over-eager score. There’s a little atmosphere before the kills start in earnest. The eponymous Barge People are mutants who are suggested to be the product of inbreeding – which, as we all know, either gives people the “Innsmouth look” or turns them into mole rats – though there are also sweeping suggestions of pollution and contamination in the local water.

The cannibal mutants (who are all emphatically in the same aesthetic camp as the crawlers from Descent) may be accomplished with little more than latex head prostheses and long coats, but they look pretty good, and have some character to let you tell one apart from another. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some of that “satisfying” gore.

Courtesy RLJE

The mutants apparently bleed gross greenish water which, in fine modern splatter film manner, they spray in constant jets while our ostensible protagonists grimace and stab at the camera operator repeatedly. They also “bite” their prey by rubbing their faces on them, while much of the aforementioned “stabbing” is accomplished by whapping rubber knives against people. It’s less that it looks bad, per se, than that the editor/director might have been better served to cut away sooner and not linger on effects that they can’t quite achieve.

Because here’s the thing about Texas Chain Saw Massacre: There’s a reason why it stays stuck in our minds all these years later; why it continues to unsettle and disturb, even in the era after the torture porn genre became a thing, despite the fact that it has almost no gore, especially compared to a movie like this. Watching people yell while blood (or gross water) sprays on them is not, generally, unsettling. Which is probably fine. A movie that emblazons its cover with “satisfyingly gory” likely isn’t looking to unsettle you – and doesn’t necessarily need to.

Courtesy RLJE

At the end of the day, this is a flick where a bunch of almost completely unlikable people get butchered by weird cannibal mutants. Any effort to flesh out the characters into even two dimensions – let alone three – is relegated primarily to a single line of dialogue, said through tears and gritted teeth and a smear of Karo syrup blood. The credits are done in faux-‘70s style. There’s obviously a big (albeit, mostly direct-to-VOD) market for movies in this vein, and, as they go, I’ve certainly seen much worse than this barge-centric cannibal mutant throwback.

Sure, every turn is so predictable as to feel obligatory, especially if you’ve ever seen even one other horror movie in your life, but if “satisfyingly gory” is the kind of praise that draws you in, you could do a lot worse than to give The Barge People a spin.

The Barge People will be released by RLJ Entertainment on August 18th.

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