The Canadian home invasion horror Berkshire County is currently seeing a run downtown, so after missing it at BITS last year, I made sure to check it out.
High school senoir Kylie (Alysa King) is babysitting on Halloween night when she is set upon by a group of masked assailants.
In the year 2008, we saw the release of Bryan Bertino’s debut The Strangers. It didn’t invent the masked home invaders sub-genre, but it certainly popularized it and since then, we’ve seen many, many iterations. Director Audrey Cumming's Berkshire County is one more to the list, but aside from its ive-seen-this-before motif, it does have some good things going for it.
First off, the lead actress Alysa King is terrific in this. Much like actress Katherine Isabelle in 2013’s similarly themed Torment, she is the real strength of the picture. But, whereas Isabelle’s motivations came from a maternal instinct, King’s were more about her taking control of her life and not becoming a victim, like she was in the very topical events of the first act.
|Alysa King as Kylie in Berkshire County|
I also have to mention the location, which was a beautiful sprawling mansion about an hour north of Toronto. This place looked absolutely fantastic, with multiple levels of rooms and hallways that seem to go on forever. The family in the film were moving, so the place was cleared of furniture, leaving an eerie, cavernous space for the ensuing cat-and-mouse antics. It only served to assist the cinematography, which was already solid. I dug the masks (provided by Grim Stitch Factory) worn by the antagonists, but as I mentioned at the top, we are entering an area of diminishing returns at this point.
I appreciated that a good chunk of the second act happened in real time. Unlike most horror flicks, Kylie actually gets through to 9-1-1 and just has to hold out that painfully long amount of time it takes for the cavalry to arrive. It frames that section with a sense of immediacy and adds to the tension. Additionally, there is the fact that Kylie also has to protect the two children in her charge.
Sadly, what works against the atmosphere is the insistent overuse of audio cues during the film. Jump scares are an overused crutch of the genre, almost every horror filmmaker uses them – even my current favourite It Follows has its fair share – but Berkshire’s habit of over-accentuating action really wore down on me after a while.
I felt the film started strong, but became increasingly implausible as it progressed, leading to an ending I wasn’t all that struck on. A few years ago, a film programmer friend of mine said he never judged a horror film by the last two minutes because it was often just something tacked on to get in one last jolt. I took that observation to heart and now choose to apply it here.
Having said that, I enjoyed Berkshire County for what it was, a showcase of local talent for which I can see bright things in the future.