Madison County (2012)

30 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Give the five central young people in the horror film “Madison County” credit—at least they don’t take the Obligatory Wrong Turn. Midway through their trip to Madison County in rural Arkansas, they encounter a Mysterious Pickup Truck Driver who asks where they’re going. He responds by giving his own directions. Do they take his advice? Surprisingly, no…but here’s a bigger surprise—they still endure all sorts of slasher-film-type torture nonetheless. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen so many movies, but that was a refreshing move.

To be sure, “Madison County” is standard stuff. A group of attractive young people embarks on a seemingly harmless trip far from home, and they stop at a practically-dead town, where they encounter the wrong guy who just wants to stalk and kill them. It goes all the way back to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” (You could call this film “The Arkansas Axe Slaughter.”)

But that doesn’t make “Madison County” a bad movie. In fact, I found myself rather enjoying this film. It’s competently made and knows how to satisfy the average horror fan. I was surprised by how much I liked the film—it brought back fond memories of when I was exploring the slasher-movie genre for the first time as a young teenager (and yes, that included watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), and how since then (especially now that I’m a film critic) I’ve found some to be acceptable (with some sick, recognizing enjoyment to them) and others to be deplorable (that just feel like an overcoming sickness). The truth is, however, that slasher movies have existed for decades and there’s no sign of stopping anytime soon. But so few of them are as satisfactory as “Madison County.”

The film follows a group of college kids (Colley Bailey, Matt Mercer, Ace Marrero, Joanna Sotomura, and Natalie Scheetz) as they hit the road for a small mountain town called Madison County, Arkansas, in the hopes of interviewing the author of a novel that is based on a legendary murderer named Damien Ewell. One of the kids needs the interview for a class project, and yet he and his buddy bring their girlfriends along with them (with a fifth, the protective older brother of one of the girlfriends, in tow) in the hopes of having a good time. (And let’s face it, it’s also because a standard slasher movie requirement is to have five young, attractive people—not four or six; five! But I digress.)

Once they do make it to Madison County (again, without taking that Obligatory Wrong Turn), they snoop around private property, encounter a strange group of locals at the local diner (including an elderly woman who just seems all too polite), and are warned to turn back before they get into trouble. But wouldn’t you know it—while exploring the woods, trouble does find them. And it’s in the form of a psychotic killer with an axe and a pig-face mask.

I was surprised by how well the first half was set up to prepare us for what the blood hits the fan. It establishes the mystery that the characters are trying to find about, and by doing so, the first half of the film maintains a quiet level of creepiness and eases us into the violence that will occur in the second half, which is composed of the young outsiders racing to survive the predatory Damien. Also, I give the first half credit for setting up the characters in a plausible way, and I found myself liking them as well—they’re not the obnoxious goofballs you see in Eli Roth’s horror films; they’re people you want to root for. This isn’t really an actor’s movie, but the actors playing the five do adequate jobs—in particular, Ace Marrero as the broody, protective “older brother” (mentioned above) adds an unaffected confidence to the role that makes him stand out.

And the film is genuinely scary at times. In particular, there’s a chase between Damien and two young women in the woods, as Damien gets closer and closer to a hiding spot while the woman is too scared to run (and also, give the scene credit for having the other woman make herself a decoy to save the other one). That overly-polite woman at the diner that I mentioned steals every scene she’s in, because you know something just isn’t right with her. And I should also mention the film’s terrific opening scene that shows a young, half-naked, unconscious woman in the back of a moving pickup truck. She wakes up and has no idea where she is, and I’m thinking that I feel her pain. That opening scene got me hooked, and prepared me for what was to follow. (Who that woman was is part of the mystery, by the way.)

“Madison County” is certainly better than most independent slasher movies in recent memory, and most of the credit for that goes to the writer-director, Eric England. He knows that the slasher-horror genre is done to death (so to speak), and doesn’t do a lot to change most of its elements and gimmicks, making it all the more welcome in the way that most of its familiarity works in the film’s favor, in my opinion.

2 Responses to “Madison County (2012)”

  1. Ace Marrero April 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Thanks so much for the kind words Tanner! Appreciate it a lot! Hope ya check out our next film ROADSIDE!

    Stay in touch,


    • ltannersmith April 4, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

      Believe me, I will–“Roadside” looks intriguing.

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