They say comedy is subjective. The same goes for horror. You would think that horror-comedies would then be a less popular prospect for up-and-coming filmmakers, given it represents twice the challenge, but there seem to be more than ever, thanks to the 21st century's love of self-aware, postmodern humor. One of the latest efforts in this troubled subgenre is 100 Bloody Acres, an Australian production about brothers in the fertilizer business. Although it's definitely not a disaster, and the project's hometown flavor gives it an injection of distinctive personality, it stumbles into the same traps that hamstring so many movies like it.
Reg Morgan (Damon Herriman) and Lindsay Morgan (Angus Sampson) live in the secluded Australian countryside, where there's plenty of farms to offer their business to and few people around to poke their noses in. They run Morgan Brothers' Blood and Bone Fertilizer, generally made from the remains of dead animals. However, the discovery of a few plane crash victims led them to create a "new formula" that put their business back on the map. When Reg runs into Sophie (Anna McGahan), James (Oliver Ackland), and Wes (Jamie Kristian) on the way to a music festival, he begins thinking about their recent shortage of materials, and decides to bring them back to his older brother as grist for the mill.
Most of the successful horror comedies are character pieces, driven by the personalities of the people in a given ghoulish situation. Sadly, most filmmakers, including co-director / screenwriters Colin and Cameron Cairnes, are more interested in drawing comedy out of the scenario itself. It's a mistake: the viewer must have a sense of how these types of movies go, because undercutting those moments through observation is the joke, but that also mutes the payoff because the punchline is automatically telegraphed. In this specific case, the gag is the banality of the Morgans' work: they're waiting for a radio ad to play on the local oldies station, and repeatedly refer to themselves as "small business owners" while preparing to murder. The jingle, at least, is worth a smile, but there's no depth to these kinds of gags.
Admittedly, 100 Bloody Acres does attempt to develop its characters, but it sadly does so separately from the humor. We're meant to care about Reg, who Lindsay frequently bullies and berates, and about Reg's infatuation with Sophie, but transplanting material that would feel tired in an actual horror-thriller into a horror-comedy-thriller without any comedy doesn't make it work. The slow burn toward Reg's transformation is just as tedious as it would be if we believed the characters were genuinely in danger. Meanwhile, the character with the most screen time out of the three victims is Wes, one of those "hilariously obnoxious" characters that just comes off as plain old obnoxious. The film's more concerned with Reg, so thankfully Wes only takes up so much of the film, but when he's around, he's annoying.
There are some bright spots in the film. McGahan is legitimately charming as the girl of Reg's dreams, wringing a couple of heartfelt moments out of a dull infidelity subplot. Wolf Creek's John Jarratt also shows up in a wonderfully playful cameo as the friendliest cop in all of Australia, in a scene that overcomes its purpose as gear-grinding "comedy tension" thanks to his cheerful performance alone. There's also a gleefully ludicrous development involving Nancy (Chrissie Page), a kindly old lady who drops in on the Morgans from time to time to make sure they're doing all right. From a technical standpoint, the film is also quite polished (there are some spectacular, old-fashioned prosthetic gore effects on display). It's just a shame about the jokes: for a film predicated on the demand for "new blend," the material here is pretty old hat.
100 Bloody Acres gets fairly pedestrian artwork that shoves everyone into the same photo using Photoshop. The title feels a little cramped in the design, and Music Box's branding of the film as part of the Doppelganger Releasing line is a little too subtle (a banner across the top or bottom would've been better). The disc comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, and there is an insert promoting other Music Box releases.
The Video and Audio
Music Box's 2.35:1 1080p AVC video presentation of 100 Bloody Acres is reasonably close to perfection, even if it falls short. Shadows tend toward gray instead of black, and especially vivid colors can sometimes appear unnaturally oversaturated, but other than those quibbles, this is a excellent image boasting phenomenal fine detail and depth. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounds nicely rich and full, although only a few bits involving the grinder and a drug trip really give the stereo mix a workout. Dialogue is wonderfully placed at the center, working in excellent harmony with Sampson's bassy growl. A 2.0 mix and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
All extras on the disc are presented in HD.
The extras for 100 Bloody Acres could be split up into three categories: before, during, and after shooting. "During" is first, consisting of two featurettes and some brief clips. "Behind 100 Bloody Acres" (9:22) is a fairly casual collection of on-set interviews, with a couple of brief film clips and B-roll mixed in. Not the liveliest making-of, but much better than something more aggressively promotional. "Bloody SFX" (5:03) is a clip of the prosthetics team showing off a stunningly believable dead body, as well as various other prosthetics and makeup effects used on the film. It completely follows through on a comment in the previous featurette about how some of the effects work was too believable to be funny -- perhaps not the best extra to watch after a meal. "Grinding the Roadie" (0:22) is a related clip of the prosthetic body being put to use. "Col and Cam Do the Shed Scene" (2:30) is actually a reel of the directors acting out several bits from their movie, including an extended sequence on set. A A chuckle-worthy gag reel (3:38) is also included.
"Before" is next. "Celestial Avenue" (20:52) is a short film by the Cairnes brothers, also featuring actor Angus Sampson. Very strange, but interesting. Seven storyboard galleries lay out the film on paper. A "Mood Reel" (1:39) serves as a glimpse of the film's tone using photographs, music, and quotes, probably shown to investors. Last, "Reg the Dog's Audition" (0:20) is an adorable third of a minute.
"After" is all advertising. "Recording the Radio Ad" (2:41) peeks into the booth while the actors lay down the tracks for one of the film's extended jokes...in character! The ads themselves (1:05) are also included. Furthermore, there are also TV commercials (10:43), which are fairly amusing, "rescued from VHS" spots for the farm.
Trailers for Eddie, Black Out, and The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for 100 Bloody Acres is also included.
100 Bloody Acres is not a bad film, but it lacks spark, falling back on observational humor the viewer can see coming a mile away instead of tying it to their film's unique cast of characters. That said, excellent A/V and a nice supplemental package earn this at least a rental.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.