Madison County

| May 8, 2012

Another group of college kids take another road trip to another remote, unfriendly rural location where the locals act suspicious and then the kids get knocked off by an insane redneck killer in writer/director Eric England’s feature film debut, Madison County. Honestly, the release of this film could not have been timed much worse after the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, given that Madison County is exactly the sort of film Cabin expertly skewers. England tries to inject some mystery into the motives behind what drives the kids to the titular Madison County, but it really doesn’t matter– there is nothing here that horror fans haven’t seen countless times before.

James (Colley Bailey) is a grad student who has decided to write his thesis on a book he discovered called Devil in the Woods, a supposedly true account of mass murder in rural Madison County perpetrated by a man named Damien. James has been writing back and forth with the book’s author and decides to visit Madison County himself to find out whether the story is true and what the locals think of the story and the book. Along for the ride is Jenna (Natalie Scheetz), James’s longtime crush, his best friend Will (Matt Mercer), who has offered to take pictures to accompany the thesis, Will’s secret girlfriend Brooke (Joanna Sotomura), and Brooke’s older brother Kyle (Ace Merrero) who has been sent to make sure Will behaves himself. Kyle is obviously very unhappy about babysitting and wasting the weekend, and it would seem like a good idea for Brooke to just tell him about her and Will’s relationship so he could stay home instead of trying to hide it from him all weekend, but then we would have one less city boy to get killed.

The group arrives in Madison County and are told by a nice old lady working in a diner that the author of the book moved away years ago and that the book’s story about the killing spree is a local legend. She gives James directions to the author’s house, but when they arrive there is no one home, although the house seems to be recently vacated. At this point, the film has already burned through about half its running time, and it’s starting to look like maybe it will actually be the story of five kids who drive to the country, meet some creepy locals, and then just go home. A few minutes later, though, one of the kids finally gets killed (at 46 minutes of 81 total, including end credits) and the film settles into traditional stalk ‘n slash with young folks running around in the woods being chased by a murderer wearing a pig’s head for a mask. The killer is played by Nick Principe, who also played Chromeskull in the Laid to Rest films. The makeup and effects in Madison County were done by Almost Human, the effects house run by Laid to Rest director Robert Hall, giving horror fans hope that at least the kills in Madison County will be interesting.

This is not the case, though– despite the prominent “UNRATED” graphic on the cover of the DVD, there’s really nothing on the screen in Madison County that wouldn’t get passed with an “R” rating. And with that fact established, the last hope that Madison County will provide anything other than a competent, by-the-numbers slasher movie vanishes. England tries to generate some interest in a convoluted backstory about why the kids have been drawn to Madison County in the first place, but it’s far too little and way too late to make any difference. In even the best slasher films, the audience doesn’t care about why the kids are where they are, just about what happens to them. In this case, there’s not much interest on either count. There’s nothing particularly bad about Madison County, but there’s also nothing unique or interesting about it. There are worse ways to spend 81 minutes, but there are much better ones, too.

Image Entertainment released Madison County on DVD on 8 May 2012. Special features include the film’s trailer and audio commentary with filmmaker Eric England, producer Daniel F. Dunn and star Ace Marrero.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium:

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