The insanely gory yet oddly sweet Australian agri-comedy 100 Bloody Acres offers a dark lampoon of rural culture—and, to a lesser extent, the DIY economy. It’s the first feature from writer-director sibling duo Cameron and Colin Cairnes, and while their efforts are a bit goofy and uneven, at least the establishment is family-owned and operated.
A collaborative first feature is enough to tax any partnership, and the Cairneses, with a winking subtext, have made theirs about a rift between siblings. The Morgan brothers run an organic “blood and bone” fertilizer business out of their farmhouse, and their blend has earned a reputation for its potency—thanks to its secret ingredient, the mangled corpses of car-crash victims. (“We’ll fertilize you!” their eerie slogan promises.) It’s unclear whether the Morgans have always operated their business like psychopaths or this is a recent development, but the brothers act completely unfazed as they produce cheesy radio commercials and drive around in a truck with their cartoon visages painted on the side.
As the film opens, the younger, timid, dimwitted brother, Reg (Damon Herriman, better known as Dewey Crowe from Justified), is collecting one such “ingredient,” and accidentally slices off some of his victim’s fingers in the process. It’s a cheap laugh that still works, thanks to Herriman’s wonderfully panicked performance, and that dynamic carries through the rest of the film. As Reg takes a stand for humane business practices against domineering older brother Lindsay (Angus Sampson, with a giant forehead and a menacing scowl), he improbably becomes the film’s moral center. His actions suggest he’s a monster, but his simple desire to be loved and respected says otherwise.
First, though, Reg falls victim to a pretty face, setting all later troubles into motion (organically, of course). The face belongs to Sophie (Anna McGahan), who’s traveling to a music festival with her long-term boyfriend (Oliver Ackland) and secret-lover-on-the-side (Jamie Kristian). Nice guy that he is, Reg offers the crew a lift in spite of the corpse in his truck bed, a decision that proves ill-advised once Lindsay gets wind of the unexpected guests.
Though the blood and the dimly lit industrial barn suggest this is a horror movie, it’s more of a character-based comedy in creepy overalls. Even when weapons go flying and innocents get dipped in vats of organs, the Cairnes brothers maintain a light, bouncy tone. Sometimes the film gets a bit too fizzy, with forced subplots about Sophie’s infidelities and an acid trip through a fairytale village. “How are we going to get out of this barn alive?” would have been compelling enough on its own.
But these lapses are forgivable, because 100 Bloody Acres truly excels in its characterizations. Movies featuring humans in meat grinders rarely let the victims (or even the perpetrators) be, well, flesh and blood. The acid-tripping idiot who initially declares himself “indestructible” ultimately becomes strangely pitiable. McGahan, who in another movie would have simply been playing the promiscuous expendable girl, digs into impressive layers of a bygone life while tied to a bench. Even Lindsay, the de facto villain, seems more of a gruffly misguided entrepreneur than an out-and-out evil sadist. (He does, however, kick a dog at one point, which should still not be acceptable on film.)
The Cairnes brothers get in some good jabs at organic living with a fun early montage of earth-friendly, undeniably strange local businesses, but the film still lacks the razor edge of true satire. Nor do the directors pack in enough genre juice to match inside-out horror parodies like The Cabin In The Woods or Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. That’s okay, though. The Morgan brothers’ special blend of gross-out laughs is just sustainable enough.