“People shouldn’t trespass... that’s how accidents happen.”
Sound advice from “The Son” in Stuart (Stu) Stone’s SCARECROWS, a bumpkin survival film. But if we’re talking in terms of creating a successfully tense but funny horror movie with hints of gore... trespassing wasn’t the issue.
SCARECROWS (Catch That Drone Shot) starts off strong with a tense sweeping opening on the expanse of a never-ending cornfield to land on a lone person, dressed as a macabre scarecrow and tied to a stake, as a murder of crows descend, pecking and cawing at this poor victim’s face. An intriguing beginning that quickly devolves into a mash-up of early 2000’s humor and limp scares.
From the top, the film feels imbalanced. Our protagonists drive into the scene with the license plate SHMALTZ and immediately state their archetypes. Eli can’t wait to give a promise ring to his girlfriend Ash, a bird enthusiast and all around good girl. Meanwhile jock bro Farbsie thinks it’s a bad idea to lock yourself to one chick, a sentiment echoed in part by slutty girl Devin reminding Ash that Eli is “precollege!”. I’m not sure what “precollege” means here exactly seeing as not a single one of these adults plays for anything younger than 25. Regardless, four friends who’ve known each other awhile (I guess) are on a road trip to the beach on a beautiful sunny day and take a detour to a lagoon on private land. What could go wrong?
Well, first of all, every single one of these friends is insufferable. There’s a fine line between a character who’s supposed to be terrible but you kind of love it (see It’s Always Sunny) and a character who reminds you of every person you were happy to never see again after high school. Thirty minutes in, I was ready for all of them to meet their death. Second of all, throughout the entire first half of SCARECROWS (It’s Not About Crows At All), I could not figure out what Stone was trying to convey. One minute we’re in a great irreverent scene of a severed thumb dropped from the sky to the windshield where it’s promptly windshield wipered into a bloody smear across the glass. Next, we’re following our four protagonists as they hike to a secret lagoon for what feels like three days of real time all while lyric-heavy pop songs play in the background. Songs such as “Wasted Youth” by Bonnie McKee including lyrics:
“Hold on to your wasted youth Hold on, cause it’s gone too soon”
Again, pretty sure all of these people are at least inching to their 30’s but whatever. Forever young and all that but why, in a horror movie, are we spending so much time with scenes that feel like they were picked up off the The Perks of Being a Wallflower cutting room floor? A few times, we cut to “The Father”, the silent antagonist (“scary bumpkin man with new murder rainboots” as I came to call him) suddenly looking up at the sound of the trespassers, with his face hidden menacingly by the shadow of his leather outback hat. But mostly we’re just... watching these four “precollege” friends whine about hiking, deciding to go skinny dipping and blowing each other.
Because, third of all, somehow SCARECROWS (Maybe You Don’t Have a Good Sense of Humor) boasts not one, not two but three blow job scenes. Are they necessary? Absolutely not. Are they funny? No, they’re awkward. Are they sexy? Only if your definition of “sexy blow job” is that it happened at all. In the first entry, Devin pops up from underwater with the uncomfortable expression of a woman who’s been drowning (“on DICK” I can almost hear these dudes whispering to the wind) while Farbsie points at her with a thumbs up to Eli and Ash. Maybe feeling pressured to be a spectacle was the scary part?
It was at this point I paused the movie in to gain some insight on Stuart (Stu) Stone. I needed some background information to shed some light on what I could expect with the second half of SCARECROWS (Remember Real World?).
Director Stuart (Stu) Stone is best known for his role as Ronald Fisher in Donnie Darko and (according to his Wikipedia page) starred in MTV reality shows Blowin’ Up and True Love with “close friend” Jamie Kennedy.
That’s when it clicked. SCARECROWS (Written By Dudes Afraid to Be Called Gay) felt like watching an MTV movie from the early 2000’s. The jokes are stale, the villains are better designed than written, one of the actors is a Canadian rapper called D-Sisive, distracting pop songs are shoe-horned in every scene of the “precollege” kids journey and the women are lazily objectified. This... is 2000’s writing. Some butts, some tits and a character has a two pounds of really good kush. The comedy of the film was like listening to the Bud Light buzzed jokes from your college roommate on game days.
But we’re all here for the horror so let’s cover that. It was ok. There were fun moments like the severed thumb mentioned earlier and a great stitching of a mouth closed scene where the cuts to the prosthetic were almost seamless. But there was a total lack of follow-through as though they assumed hints of horror would be enough to transform a really long music video into a horror movie. We move from this great scene of lips being sewn shut to reveal the twine is... loose? Two stitches of loose twine that look obviously like someone can speak through it? Which is so unfortunate because the actual scarecrow design was creepy and unsettling with rough burlap bags melded into horrific faces giving a great Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe. The buck stops at the design as we watch “The Father” clumsily dropping them over the victims faces like he’s a dressing a dog in a holiday sweater. I’m gonna give it to Calla Zentil (Art Direction) as well as Megan Fraser and Kaitlyn Hill (Makeup Department) for beautiful creations unfortunately not utilized to their full potential.
Every horror movie needs a good Big Bad to make the film work and “The Father” in SCARECROWS (Have a Nice Trip See You Next MURDER) just doesn’t hit this mark. He takes out the male leads with strict blows to the head but the females are taken out by... tripping? Both female leads are tripped to unconscious. Literally in one scene, Devin is tripped by a scythe via “The Father” and is rendered unconscious. From hitting the earth. Her head hits fresh-tilled dirt and she’s unconscious enough to be carried away by “The Father”.
It’s the details really. Jason J. Thomas and Derek Christoff, as “The Father” and “The Son”, are obviously invested in being creepy and unnerving. I can still vividly recall “The Son’s” wide eyes as he implores Ash to leave and “The Father’s” slight tilt of the head beneath his hat as he’s admonished that “it has to stop”. But it’s extremely hard to believe they’re father and son which lets the air out of any tension between the two of them and, honestly, there wasn’t much purpose in having both characters at all.
To sum it up, SCARECROWS (Check Out Our Spotify Playlist) is uneven. Are we supposed to like our protagonists? Are they jerks? Is it sad when a character dies? Who do we want to “win”? Is this a silly horror movie or thriller? None of it is clear with dialogue that veers from sentimental to asshole in a scene and a soundtrack that’s either smacking you in the face or literally silent.
And I’m pretty sure the third blow job scene was our director cameo.