Pros: Umm…sound design is pretty cool
Cons: Most everything about this film is abhorrent, and the characters? “They’re idiots!”
Dealing with a group of absolutely moronic, astonishingly unlikable characters who stumble upon evil spirits at a remote homestead, writer/director Rustam Branaman’s The Culling began shooting in 2011, sitting on the shelf for nearly four years before it finally saw the light of day and was released in 2015. Having now seen the film, I’m frankly amazed that it was released at all – The Culling stands as one of the most genuinely awful movies I’ve seen in quite some time, one that disregards common conventions of cinema and doesn’t even bother to attempt a coherent story. Events in the script are rendered inconsequential by Branaman’s misguided, pointless direction and the piece boasts some of the most crushingly ludicrous dialogue I’ve ever sat through in a straight-faced feature. In short, this is precisely the sort of flick that gives modern horror a bad rap.
The Culling follows a group of five young adults on their way to the South by South West Festival (perhaps this is some sort of gag – many film makers dream of taking their films to this event, but sadly – or is it fortunately? – there’s no way in the world that Branaman’s would be selected). After stopping at a cafe out in the sticks, this gang of buffoons discover a young girl named Lucy crying in the parking lot and offer to take her back to her home – which winds up being an expansive mansion in the middle of nowhere. As might be expected, this turns out to be a bad move: not only is this girl some sort of demon, but her parents are homicidal occultists who’ve apparently made some sort of deal with the devil that requires them not only to kill anyone who ventures onto their property, but also construct (??) some sort of army of monster children. Oh, and there’s also the occasional shadow person /smoky apparition / unknown growling, snarling beast prowling the property.
Hopefully that synopsis provides some idea of how much of a haphazard mess this flick is, but any description I could write doesn’t do justice to the abysmal Culling. The lack of coherency, frequent references to marijuana and sex, and gratuitous pop culture references might lead one to think this was written by (at best) a college student, but sadly that’s not the case – a middle-aged man, failing miserably in his attempt to sound “hip” and appeal to young audiences, is to blame. In the mood for some verbal diarrhea? You’re in luck, since the mind-numbing chatter between characters in Branaman’s script is appalling, with many conversations playing out as repeating loops. People have similar back-and-forth exchanges one right after another (can anyone in the film even comprehend or make sense of the English language?), and the film concludes most every one of its instances of bickering between various characters with stubborn declarations of “Fine!” or “That’s Enough!”
Furthermore, there’s virtually no explanation provided for any of the events in the film: things simply happen and a viewer is left to try and figure out what the hell is going on. A rambling and thoroughly incomprehensible monologue near the end does about nothing to shed light on what is a confusing and downright sloppy plot. I almost could live with the lack of sense being made in the film – after all, horror flicks aren’t known for their sound logic – but the amount of loose ends left at the end of The Culling is staggering. Ideas are thrown in as if they’ll figure heavily into the ongoing events, then are completely forgotten within seconds. To make matters worse, as the “story” is going full bore towards what one would hope to be a smashing finale, Branaman suddenly yanks the emergency brake and the end credit scroll begins out of nowhere. This hasty ending might as well scream “yeah…we just ran out of money,” making what was already a problematic film all the more frustrating and disappointing. One might hope that Branaman would never work again for how positively incompetent his handling of The Culling is – it boggles the mind to consider the monumental waste of time, energy, effort, and money this film represents.
Bad as the script is, it’s in some ways the characters that push The Culling over the top. I’ve seen many a lousy horror flick in which I hoped the characters would be killed quickly so that I wouldn’t be annoyed by them any longer, but Branaman’s film may have established a new record for how quickly I desperately wanted everyone onscreen to die. This film presents a “who’s who” of cliched horror film personalities in the group of prospective victims: Tyler and Emily, the couple who are attempting to patch things up after a rough patch in their relationship; perennial douchebag Sean, who spends the majority of the film smoking weed or drinking Bud Light; wisenheimer Hank, who actually might have been amusing if he’d been placed alongside other, more obviously likable characters; and Amanda, the girl who just got out of drug rehab. Essentially, none of these people are remotely likable and beyond that, they’re moronic to the point that the killers in this film could probably be considered to be doing a public service by removing them from the breeding pool.
Even if none of the actors playing these roles do an especially good job – and many are genuinely horrible in their performances – it’s hard for me to really hold them accountable considering the obnoxious and reprehensible material they were given to work with. The best thing I could say about Elizabeth Di Prinzio (playing Emily who winds up as the semi-heroine of the piece), Jeremy Sumpter (as her would-be boyfriend whose main job after a certain point is to threaten everyone and anyone with a rifle), and Brett Davern (as Hank) is that they weren’t quite as overwhelmingly abrasive as either Chris Coy (as the unbelievably irritating Sean) or Linsey Godfrey (too hysterical as Amanda). Johnathon Schaech as Lucy’s murderous father Wayne easily fares the best in the film, at least partially because he actually has some acting ability but also because he tackles the role of the villain with enthusiasm, and Harley Graham as Lucy ranges from being cute and innocent to fairly creepy.
From a technical standpoint, I can say that the outdoor, nighttime photography is accomplished fairly well, with especially good lighting adding a much-needed element of eeriness to the picture. I also rather liked the sound design which was often overrun with ominous groans, rumbles, and growls. Even with the near-constant unsettling audio however, The Culling takes forever to get going, and even then suffers from a serious lack of genuine suspense or scariness – possibly because a viewer has so little regard for them, it’s actually a relief when the “protagonist” characters meet their dooms, which virtually eliminates any semblance of tension from the film. The misguided sense of spatial dynamics doesn’t help matters either: there are numerous instances where it’s nearly impossible to discern what is being seen and why one should even care. Surprisingly, director Branaman doesn’t even rely on the usual overload of gore to sustain audience interest: there really is nothing here to keep one involved in the proceedings and it’s therefore no surprise that the production seems utterly ineffectual in the end. I honestly have no clue why anyone would want to sit through this disaster of a movie: this isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s so entirely awful as to come across as a pathetic excuse for “entertainment.” I’d advise potential viewers to find any excuse not to suffer through this flick: it really is best forgotten.
5/10: Some violent scenes and isolated instances of gore, but the film is a massive letdown in terms of its overall scariness and intensity.
5/10: A few curse words; this film contains quite a bit of casual drug and alcohol use.
2/10: Some sexual innuendo and references, but sadly, no nudity.
3/10: A pretty poor excuse for a feature film, but one that doesn’t even come across as an enjoyably bad movie.
“There’s just no limit to what these reality shows are gonna exploit. I mean, people shouldn’t mess with the occult…”