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A vacationing or road-tripping couple that fall prey to crazed locals with nefarious plans is well trodden at this point. For Nora and Alec (Nora Yessayan and Alec Gaylord), it means the typical ignoring of all signs in favor of stopping at a less than ideal cabin nestled away on the outskirts of an isolated town full of strange locals. Their one-night stopover before moving on is derailed when they’re kidnapped and separated, both treated as livestock amongst a silent community of animal mask sporting strangers. It’s a premise that promises a harrowing journey for its protagonists that’s reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but its execution is more of a head-scratcher.
Dropped in the middle of Nora and Alec’s road trip, we never quite learn where they were going or why, nor do we learn much about them. Their banter reveals that Nora is the most untrusting, cautious one of the two, and that Alec is often dismissive of her input. So, the viewer is never quite invested in their story when they’re kidnapped in their sleep, only to awaken in cages. Alec finds himself naked in a barn full of other caged, naked men, and Nora is harrowingly tied up and artificially inseminated before being imprisoned in a livestock stall. It soon becomes clear that the masked people running this strange farm have a large livestock of humans; the men treated as beef livestock and the woman segregated as dairy cattle. It’s a concept that’s far more gruesome on paper than what transpires on screen.
Written and directed by Hans Stjernswärd, The Farm marks his feature debut. Save for well-shot cinematography by Egor Povolotskiy, it shows. For a scant 80-minute run-time, The Farm drags. There simply doesn’t feel like enough plot to fill the time. Perhaps because there are strange stylistic choices, like opting to follow a masked farmer slasher killer as he bags up multiple arms, slugs it over his shoulder, and walk from one end of the large property to the other before handing a wad of cash to another. Maybe it’s meant to show the hard work these people put into the farm; this is just a normal functioning farm to them, but to a viewer, it’s a tedious slowdown in plot. Stjernswärd also seems so caught up in these moments that he forgets what’s important- the characters.
Aside from never really developing a sense of who they are or why we should care, he also skims over important moments. In one scene we see Alec naked in a cage, having just taken a blow to his skull by a sledgehammer. The next time we see him, he’s inexplicably freeing Nora from her stall fully clothed. We have no idea how he freed himself, and more importantly; how in the hell did he even know how to find her? Even more glaring is how inconsequential Nora and Alec become in their own story. Once captured and imprisoned on the Farm, the story shifts its focus to the people operating it. The protagonists become an afterthought in their own film.
For an insidious setup, there’s surprisingly very little in terms of horrific visuals and viscera. Save for two small moments, most deaths are off screen and much of the human meat slaughtering is implied. The moments they do show feel most exploitive in its attempt to convince the viewer how very bad news these people are and incongruent to the plot. The acting can also be indicative of its low budget at times, namely in some of the more overwrought performances by the crazed locals. All of this could be forgivable in a narrative that’s more engaging. Stjernswärd has a lot of short films to his credit, some with PETA in which The Farm no doubt drew inspiration, and his first feature feels very much like a short film drawn out too far. As it stands, The Farm is hollow; a somewhat interesting idea padded out with a lot of uninteresting filler.