In his review of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, late critic Gene Siskel told a story of a producer who applauded at the end of every film he saw — good or bad — because he knew how hard movies are to make. Even with that spirit in mind, the line between appreciating and recommending is pretty stark. It can be hard to review something like Bonehill Road, the latest flick from prolific no-budget horror director Todd Sheets, as pure cinema isn’t quite the point here. At times it can seem more like a home movie than an actual “film,” an excuse to show off some gross-out effects as characters move from bland scene to bland scene without any sort of logic. Still, there is a kind of passion both behind and in front of the camera here that occasionally translates to actual entertainment, and one performance in particular suggests an actress that may have bigger, better things in store.
The story kicks off with domestic abuse, as a mother and daughter flee the monster they live with, hitting the road to grandpa’s house. Though clumsily done, it’s not a bad setup for a big bad werewolf movie; running from one monster only leads to dealing with others. At a rest stop they meet an obvious creep who couldn’t telegraph his future intentions any clearer, and later on — in the most ludicrous, forced manner possible — the women end up stranded in the middle of nowhere, hunted by a pack of lycanthropes. They eventually stumble across a farmhouse, where the aforementioned weirdo commits atrocities that may rival the snarling meat-eaters who await outside.
Let’s be clear about this: if you aren’t into watching borderline D-movies, Bonehill Road isn’t for you. There isn’t a lot of art or craft on display here, and very little production value. These kinds of pictures are to be viewed almost solely on the basis of the filmmakers’ passion for making movies, and for any creativity that can find its way through the severe limitations.
With that in mind, the story’s premise is fairly solid, and the idea of comparing evil people to evil monster, while not very original, can still be effective. The end of 28 Days Later deals with these issues masterfully, and most creature features have some sort of asshole to contrast with the beasties. Bonehill Road of course isn’t anywhere near even the SyFy Channel level of quality in this department, but it sort of tries, when the gooey, pasta-like gore doesn’t get in the way. The psychotic owner of the farmhouse presents an interesting parallel to the werewolves, and the struggle of the mother and daughter to escape personal hell is portrayed with admirable sincerity.
Ignoring the obvious, the biggest issue with Bonehill Road is the odd decision to focus more on the man than the beasts. When audiences are sold a werewolf movie, they are presumably looking for fun werewolf action, for these mythical monsters to actually serve some purpose. But here the story seems oddly detached from them; there is little reason for the werewolves to exist, and for as much significance as they contribute, the monsters could have just as easily been vampires, trolls, leprechauns, or any number of invented creatures — or nothing at all. Just contrive another way to wind up at the house and be forced to deal with the madman, that’s what you want to focus on. It’s not exactly a great tack to take for a film that starts with the promise of a full moon, yet hardly references a single other werewolf trope (a scratched victim does eventually succumb to the disease, but that’s about it).
What this means is that there’s little fun to be had. Kills are more of the ordinary kind, with little inventiveness on display. That’s a shame, as creativity via death scenes is generally why this sort of picture has an audience. Outside of this glaring flaw, Bonehill Road comes with jittery digital compositions (too many of which are closeups), harsh lighting that draws too much attention to makeup inconsistencies and rubber wolf suits, as well as dialogue that makes the performances — sometimes overly theatrical, sometimes comatose — come across as sympathetic. These elements are nothing really new to the genre, but to those not already fans, you have been warned.
There is one surprise of Bonehill Road that does stand out as top-notch, however, that deserves special mentioning. As the teenage daughter, Ana Rojas-Plumberg displays a level of subtlety and situational awareness in her performance that rises well above her colleagues, well-meaning as they are. She handles the stilted dialogue elegantly, and has an understanding of how to maintain the scene’s thread better than anyone else sharing the screen. This actress is a find, and her relationship with her mother (an admirable Eli DeGeer) is easily the best thing about the film. Hopefully this is not the last we’ll see of what appears to be a genuine talent.
Little discoveries are what can make films like Bonehill Road an interesting detour in cinema country. It’s as shaky as an old abandoned barn, but who knows what treasures may lurk within? As a representative of a movie world outside the mainstream that few see, I admire the effort. As a piece of campy werewolf entertainment, however, Bonehill Road lacks bite.