Plot: cityslickers check in at Mortlake – they won’t be checking out.
It took Alex Chandon a decade to get the follow-up his rightly infamous Cradle Of Fear (2001) off the ground. His 2001 offering was a critical darling but audience reaction was mixed under the kindest of circumstances. In the ten years that seperate both features Chandon didn’t direct a single thing. You’d imagine his working with a high-profile act as Cradle Of Filth would lead him into directing music videos more frequently but no such thing transpired. Thankfully Chandon put the ten years to good use and he seems to have learned a thing or two since Cradle Of Fear (2001). The technical polish that Cradle Of Fear (2001) lacked Inbred has in spades. This is by far Alex Chandon’s most impressively lensed and photographed production to date. Inbred is a vast improvement over his debut on all fronts but some of its more glaring shortcomings have persisted despite the decade-long interval between productions.
Like many a budding splatter director a meaningful story was never high on the list of priorities for Chandon. His earlier Cradle Of Fear (2001) set the bar admittedly low on that end. Inbred does an earnest effort to actually tell a story and fleshes out at least some of its characters, no matter how unlikable they might be. Writing was never Chandon’s strong suit and it isn’t here either. While Inbred is obviously better written than Cradle Of Fear (2001) Chandon’s pervading nihilism and ruthless Darwinism appear to have persisted and Inbred fares accordingly. Inbred offers no ray of light or redemption for any of its characters. It’s always a delight seeing Emily Booth and she, as always, makes an impression. Her cameo part is merely limited to the opening scene but it’s impactful enough, to say the least. It allows Alex Chandon to indulge in his worst tendencies before moving on in a more reserved, story-oriented direction. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of carnage and dismemberment to be had. In fact there’s plenty of it to go around and it’s better distributed than in his 2001 debut. In Inbred the bloodshed serves the story, not the other way around.
Care workers Jeff (James Doherty) and Kate (Jo Hartley) and four youth offenders embark on a character education weekend in one of the more remote outskirts of North Yorkshire. When they arrive in the sleepy farming community of Mortlake the youths are none too impressed, not with the task ahead nor with the accomodations for that matter. The group settle down at The Dirty Hole, the local pub, where they meet wayward owner Jim (Seamus O’Neill), before checking in for the night. The next morning Sam (Nadine Mulkerrin, as Nadine Rose Mulkerrin) and Tim (James Burrows) are send on an abandoned train salvaging mission and they do that to the best of their abilities. Dwight (Chris Waller) and Zeb (Terry Haywood) don’t take the job seriously at all much to the chagrin of group leader Jeff. A minor run-in with local yokels Gris (Neil Leiper) and his hick goons soon leads to a second, much more violent confrontation that eventually becomes the inciting incident that turns the entire village against the city-dwelling intruders. As the entire inbred population of Mortlake descends in numbers upon them the group finds themselves fighting for their very survival…
Chandon was never much of an auteur and Cradle Of Fear (2001) was closer to the collective oeuvre of German gore merchants Andreas Schnaas, Olaf Ittenbach, and Timo Rose than it was to more esoteric and faux-philosophical splatter offerings as Shatter Dead (1994), I, Zombie: A Chronicle Of Pain (1998), or Ice From the Sun (1999). Whereas his debut was very much a mostly plot-free showreel for its admittedly impressive special effects work Inbred actually makes a concerted effort to tell a story. Inbred was clearly meant to be a homage to exploitation shockers as H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), I Drink Your Blood (1970), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977). One of the biggest improvements is that the bloodshed and carnage is better distributed. The gratuitous gore only commences after a nearly 40-minute set-up and from that point onward Inbred makes each kill count. The carnage is that much hard-hitting because it happens in snack-sized portions and where it matters in the story. Cult favorite Emily Booth, she of Josh Collins’ Pervirella (1997), is given a far more dignified role although that doesn’t exclude her from meeting a sudden, gruesome end. On all fronts Inbred is a far more measured exercise that will surely satiate die-hard Chandon fans.
Yet as good as Inbred is Chandon couldn’t write a character if his life depended on it. Jeff and Kate are painted in broad enough strokes to be recognizable and Sam is by far the most sympathetic figure of the group as the prerequisite put-upon girl. Dwight and Zeb are two sides of the same coin and emblemic of Chandon as a writer. Near constant profanity spills from Dwight’s mouth and Zeb is pretty much his wingman until the two are seperated. Zeb (as the token minority character) ends up garnering far more sympathy than his insufferable colleague. Tim initially comes across as much of a douche as Dwight and Zeb but soon makes a turn for the better once he’s paired with Sam. There isn’t much to go on seperating each of the four youths, Sam is as much of a cipher as the three guys and neither is given any sort of depth, let alone pathos, to call them a lead character. Alex Chandon always had a very pronounced proclivity towards ruthless Darwinism and Inbred is, unfortunate as it may be, no different in that regard. Like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) five decades before Inbred is nihilistic and unforgivably bleak. In hands of a different director Sam and Tim would have survived the bloodshed, but not so with Alex Chandon. Just like in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) the so-called normal people are the real monsters and like the townfolk in H.G. Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) they are merely defending their turf.
Just like Cradle Of Fear (2001) launched the Creature Effects team to worldwide special effects superstardom Inbred is surely to do the same for prosthetics maker Duncan Jarman, silicone wounds creator Linzi Foxcroft for Trauma FX and blood and gore specialist Graham Taylor for GT FX. Inbred prides itself (and rightly so) on making use of an absolute minimum of CGI and basing the feature almost entirely around old-fashioned practical special effects. Everything about Inbred is bleak, including the extremely desaturated colour scheme. In an interesting inversion of modern conventions the colors in Inbred become more enriched, deep, and lush the more citydwelling folks meet their bloody fates. Also not so unimportant is that Inbred isn’t quite as exploitative as Chandon’s debut was. Emily Booth and Nadine Mulkerrin (who was 18 in 2011) both are allowed to keep their clothes on. At 35 Booth is as dashing an appearance, if not moreso, than she was in 1997 when she first worked with Chandon. Inbred benefits tremendously from Ollie Downey’s beautiful cinematography and a serene ambient score from Dave Andrews that is both minimal and unobtrusive. Unlike Chandon’s debut Inbred actually looks like a professionally helmed production and not some rather hideous looking shot-on-video experiment in bloody special effects work. At this point we’re genuinely interested where Chandon moves from here. If history is any indication, his next feature should arrive in 2021. We can only hope….