The Barge People (2018)

Director: Charlie Steeds
Starring: Kate Davies-Speak, Mark McKirdy, Makenna Guyler .UK. 1h 18m

The opening of Mutants is a love letter to 70’s horror, it has a true retro feeling about it, chunky yellow fonts with a boombing synth soundtrack and fuzzy graphics, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a re release of an older movie, as it’s so authentic rather than imitation, you’ll also be excused to wondering why the movie is called Mutants, it seems to exist with two titles, Mutants shown at the beginning and Barge People shown at the very end..

Quickly shifting to modern day in appearance, the film keeps a lot of the themes of 70’s/80’s slasher horror vibes; as it casts its main players down a watery highway which is a poetic analogy of the old dusty road. The older slasher in America often happened along random stretches of road in buttfuck nowhere, and in this modern translation the road is replaced by picturesque canals and waterways of Britain. The crew are the stereotypical group of happy young people out for a weekend of fun, a hero, a privileged jerk who riles up the locals and their respective girlfriends. As they embark on their relaxing holiday a small blunder has them in a heated argument with some locals when they accidently collide, barge into barge, I guess these are rednecks of the river adventure, but they leave the scene with a mixture of apologies and insults.

There’s another shouty clash in a local pub while trying to have a meal and the same local bunch of chavs turn up again. Luckily the burly land lady puts everyone in their place and sides on the pretty foursome giving them a complimentary bottle of local brew to take back to their barge as a peace offering however during the night they receive a hostile visit leaving a trail of blood and guts and the fun begins.

The continued homage to the retro slashers by young director Charlie Steeds starts well but loses its focus as the movie begins to drag on. The generic analogy of changing a highway to a river is quite something and a small group of emotional chavs play the part of the obligatory rednecks, however in the vein of the road/slasher classics there has to be an uncanny threat, something out of left field mutated, violent and crazy, this genre introduced audiences to Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Ruby and her nuclear family from The Hills Have Eyes (1977), but in this slightly different tale the Barge people are a slightly different breed but mutated notheless. The movie doesn’t hold many secrets, possibly and rightly assuming the audience has seen it all before, but the radio speaks of chemicals being dumped in the river and its effect on wildlife being unknown, so therefore we know why the Barge people are “funny looking” but what on earth could they want?

Like a mixture of The Descent (2005) and any of the films previously mentioned, there’s a streak of girl power as the girls have to team up to kick some ass, finding strength in their weaknesses, and in one powerful scene they begin to realise that despite their privilege or lack of, anyone can suffer from hurt feelings, but by this point in the movie it’s all a bit of a mess even after the monsters reveal their intentions, the characters don’t really progress past being with drunk or scared, there’s a small humane outburst with the girls screaming about who has the least family and how hard they are willing to fight for them, but it doesn’t add to fill in a way it should as after this screeching heart to heart nothing much helps escalate this sentiment and both are then downgraded to non descript female hero/live bait.

No one escapes

The mutants are cleverly designed but resemble the critters from the Descent minus the more professional athleticism, you can believe that the cave dwellers could climb a wall but the barge people don’t seem to be a product of their watery homes. The gore is a little sloppy, some of the violence is left off screen or cleverly masked, but there’s lots of red stuff when the creatures are eating, while they act quite animalistic they do talk and reason about their “habits and tastes” so it’s not just mindless violence, there’s a bit of torture too.

Barge People starts out so promising with the genuine feel of a retro movie but it holds a candle to some of the greats but doesn’t feed off that spark of breaking the rules, sometimes I think if you’re going to make a road styled slasher, if the censors don’t threaten to ban your movie you’re just not doing it right. Regrettably Barge People does keep the story flowing just enough for it to be entertaining but it doesn’t go above and beyond to prove more of a point other than family, no matter who is the most important as blood is thicker than water and we all gotta eat.

Rating: 6/10

Related: Death Ranch (2020), Winterskin (2018), The Descent (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (1977/2006)
List: 13 Road Movie Slashers

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