On the basis of the two movies they've released in 2016, first Harvest Lake and now Plank Face, filmmakers Scott Schirmer and Brian K. Williams (who together make up Bandit Motion Pictures) are some of the most exciting voices in independent horror right now. Their movies don't look or feel like other stuff out there. They cannot be easily classified. They are concerned more with horror's hypnotic potential than with its ability to create visceral scares, which distinguishes them from the larger crop of horror movies built out of jump scares or gore moments. This is not to dismiss jump scares or gore moments -- I have been a real fan of both -- but just to suggest that anyone going into one of Bandit's films would do right not to expect something traditional.
In Plank Face, Nathaniel Barrett and Ellie Church play Max and Stacey, a young couple who go camping in the woods, where they run into trouble almost immediately. After demonstrating his own survival instincts, Max is taken captive by a feral family -- consisting of Granny (Susan M. Martin), The Bride (Brigid Macauley) and Bunny Girl (Alyss Winkler) -- who begin the process of remaking him as their patriarch.
I have admitted already that Schirmer's last film, Harvest Lake, spun my head around a little, leaving me unsure of what to make of it on a single viewing. But then the movie refused to leave my brain, as specific moments and images kept replaying (and not only the ones you think, pervs) and the film's overall tone carried with me over the subsequent weeks. If the goal of the movie was to put me in a trance, it worked; it has since gone on to become one of my favorite horror movies of the year. That experience prepared me more readily for Plank Face, which is often similarly abstract and hypnotic; the difference this time around was that I had a better idea what to expect and could tune into the film's wavelength much more quickly.
It's an offbeat wavelength. The violence is brutal, the sex is raw. There are long passages of the movie that play out without any dialogue at all. But what Plank Face does so well is one of my favorite things for horror movies to do, which is to mess around with audience sympathies. It's the reason that Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects is such a great film: he constantly shifts the perspective of the protagonists and uses cinematic language so cleverly that at a certain point, we find ourselves rooting for the horrible murderers to prevail. That's not exactly what Schirmer and Williams are getting at in Plank Face, but there are echoes of the same idea. There are clear villains presented early on, but as the film continues our notions about who the monsters are begin to disappear. We exist completely in the world of this feral family, and we're made to understand that they care about one another and are simply trying to survive the way they know how. Imagine Jack Ketchum's Offspring or The Hills Have Eyes told entirely from the point of view of the cannibals, minus the "normal" families included as "heroic" audience surrogates. It's all a matter of perspective.