FrightFest Halloween film review: Redwood Massacre: Annihilation
A brutal serial killer6
An even more brutal serial killer6
Some wild meta ideas about the genre7
Anton Bitel | On 24, Oct 2020
Director: David Ryan Keith
Cast: Danielle Harris, Damien Puckler, Gary Kasper, Jon Campling, Tevy Poe, Benjamin Selway, Stephanie Lynn Styles
Watch Redwood Massacre: Annihilation online in the UK: FrightFest Halloween
In The Redwood Massacre (2014), five co-eds go to party in the legendary murder site the Redwood House, only to discover that the legend is true. In other words, writer/director David Ryan Keith’s feature was a by-the-book slasher whose many clichés were offset by the horrific brutality of its kills and its unusual (for the genre) setting in Scotland. Coming with a title that practically guarantees overkill, Keith’s sequel Redwood Massacre: Annihilation certainly reprises the original film’s viciousness. It opens with text defining the word “massacre”, followed immediately with a harrowing depiction of one, as a burlap-masked hulk in checked shirt and dungarees (Benjamin Selway, reprising his rôle from the original) bludgeons and slashes a roomful of abductees in an underground hellhole. The film is also shot once again in Scotland, although it is not set there. As serial killer Max (Damien Puckler) tells the first film’s final girl before murdering her, “This is supposed to be a fresh start.” Part of that fresh start is not only to relocate to America but also to reimagine the original film’s events as having taken place somewhere stateside.
Max is, as one character puts it, “a fanboy wannabe with mummy and daddy issues”, obsessed with the handiwork of the masked killer and keen to meet him – and so he is, much like this sequel, following the killer’s bloody footprints back to their source, leaving his own imitative trail of bodies along the way. Max systematically searches a woodland area where 76 people have disappeared over the last 30 years, and insinuates himself into a small group of the missing persons’ relatives – Tom Dempsey (Jon Campling), his kickass daughter Laura (Danielle Harris, of the Halloween remakes and Hatchet sequels), well-armed giant Gus (Gary Kasper) and barely characterised walking target Jen (Tevy Poe) – all just as eager as he is to locate the killer. In the background of this film, as in the original, there are once again some fun-loving campers come to flirt dangerously with the local myth – but what makes this well-battered corpse remain somewhat fresh is the Hannibal-like idea of one serial murderer travelling incognito amongst people hunting another.
Max’s infatuation with the killer – part professional admiration, part cult-like worship, part awkward romance – certainly brings a strange frisson to the film’s otherwise tired tropes. The element that really crosses the genre streams, though, is the nature of these characters’ final destination: no longer Redwood house, but the killer’s new home, glimpsed in the opening sequence. It is one of those secret subterranean facilities – all metal doors, concrete rendering, hanging hooks on chains, dodgy lighting, plastic sheeting and makeshift surgeries – that are the stuff of hackneyed horror convention. Yet once the standard games of cat and mouse (with two cats, and two very tough mice) have begun, Keith’s regular/seeming slasher unmasks itself as a wild military conspiracy.
Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is hardly subtle – indeed, no film with so comically maximalist a title could be – but amid all the baroque stabbings and skewerings, the combat and cannibalism, the film is surprisingly understated in the way that it provides (crazy) answers to questions that may always have been bothering people about the slasher genre as a whole. Just where do all those masked killers go between their sprees? And how exactly do they keep coming back after being unequivocally killed? The film’s answer is ludicrous, and raises far more questions than it ever resolves – most of them coming down to “WTF?” – but nobody every said that serial killer films had to be realistic.
“Government’s been doing shit like this for years,” says Gus, absurdly, as the truth dawns what the purpose of this compound really is. You would have to be the most hardened, wide-eyed adherent of QAnon to believe either him or the plot, but that is not to deny that this increasingly mad scenario keeps an otherwise bog-standard psycho-thriller entertainingly out there. It is reflexive, too – for as one cinematic serial killer is pitted against another, Freddy vs Jason-style, we find ourselves trapped in a metaslasher universe, with even “The Owlman” (from fellow Scottish filmmaker Lawrie Brewster’s very different horror series) making a hilariously improbable blink-or-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is also intensely nasty, cynical and bleak, revealing psychopathy just to be part of the system, and up for exploitation by conspiratorial authorities as much as filmmakers.
Redwood Massacre: Annihilation streamed at FrightFest Halloween 2020 at 7.15pm on Saturday 24th October.