26th Aug2019

Frightfest 2019: ‘The Barge People’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Kate Davies-Speak, Mark McKirdy, Makenna Guyler, Natalie Martins, Matt Swales, Kane Surry, Emma Spurgin Hussey, Tim Cartwright, Carl Andersson, David Lenik, Barrington De La Roche, Sam Lane, Harrison Nash | Written by Christopher Lombard | Directed by Charlie Steeds

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Sisters Kat and Sophie, and their boyfriends Mark and Ben, are looking forward to a relaxing weekend cruising through the glorious British countryside canals on a luxury barge. Tension arises when businessman Ben refuses to turn off his mobile and fully enter the party spirit and stress is raised further when they damage another barge and its tenants track them down to the local pub. But nothing has prepared them for the intense midnight attack on their vessel by a family of flesh-eating fish mutants who have been lurking in the dark waters, waiting for their next meal.

Much like his 2017 film Escape From Cannibal Farm (which has sat in the vaults at 88 Films for far too long, their reluctance to release the film down to not having any so-called “supermarket support”), Charlie Steeds’ The Barge People is an homage to the American horror films of the late 70s/early 80s. Whereas Cannibal Farm was a take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this film feels more like Steeds’ answer to The Hills Have Eyes, with the canals of Britain taking the place of the deserts of Nevada.

However unlike his previous film, which was something of a British pastiche of Tobe Hooper’s film, delivering the required violence whilst subverting genre cliches and saying something about the manipulation of the masses; the only thing The Barge People has to say is that the strange “country folk” of England are seemingly as lethal as the hillbillies of the USA and you should avoid them at all costs!

Yes, this is an out-and-out, old-school horror which pits incredibly well-designed monsters – something akin to the mutants of the Hills Have Eyes remake(s) rather than the original – against unprepared city folk. Which, I guess, still says plenty about the UK. After all there’s still something of a cultural divide between the liberal city dwellers of the UK and those that live out in the sticks (I know from experience, I’ve done both), a divide that could be construed as part of the reason the country is in such a terrible state following the Brexit vote. However I may be clutching at straws there. That or the social commentary here is waaay more subtle than in Cannibal Farm!

And like his 2017 pastiche, once again Steeds choses to put Kate Davies-Speak in the lead role and with good reason. She can play the “final girl” with aplomb… In Cannibal Farm she was the feisty final girl who fought back and in The Barge People she plays more of the final girl just trying to survive. On both occassions she brings a very British, almost stiff upper lip, take to what is essentially an American genre trope; and manages to show up her male counterparts each time too – by simply being a quintessential strong, empowered female. Even if these two particular characters are on either end of the “hero” scale.

The Barge People is certainly going to be a genre crowd-pleaser as it ticks all the boxes: cool monsters, plenty of blood and gore, and a familiar story of man versus monster(s). It might not be as successful, for me, as Escape From Cannibal Farm but it still means that – in terms of the films I’ve seen – director Charlie Steeds is three for three for me; with The Barge People confirming what I’ve thought all along:

Steeds is one of Britain’s best new genre directors and its an unforgiveable shame 88 Films have sat on Escape From Cannibal Farm for so long now… Oh, and that every British-made horror film going forward needs to feature Barrington De La Roche.

**** 4/5

The Barge People screened on Monday August 26th as part of the 2019 Arrow Video Frightfest.

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