Now here’s a thing: this is the Norwegians having a go at the ‘kids getting chopped up in the woods’ genre. I hesitate to call it ‘horror’, given that they appear to have branched (ho ho) out into a film type all of their own. You already know the plot, which in itself is a spoiler: a group of young people drive out into the forest, meet some dodgy people, get stuck, get killed. Nothing else of any note happens, so don’t expect big surprises or plot twists.
The twist is that this is considerably, and I do mean considerably, better than any North American attempt. I absolutely hated The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and yet this – which is just another rip-off – had me glued from start to finish.
And now that I’ve said that, I’m going to have to explain myself.
I will admit that I watched the original TCM some years ago. I had always wanted to and yet had never got around to it, so when I eventually settled down to see this ‘classic’ I was pretty excited.
It wasn’t long before I could not wait to turn it off again. I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t like the set-up. I didn’t like the baddies. Most of all, I could not wait for that bloody woman to get bumped off so that she would stop screaming. I was completely on Leatherface’s team in the hope that he would stop me having to hit the mute button.
I’ve never returned to it on the off-chance I was wrong: I’ve never wanted to waste my time. But now I think I’m going to have to, given that Manhunt is virtually the same material and yet I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I use the term ‘enjoyed’ loosely, of course. This isn’t nice. People get chased. They suffer. Then they die. There are some really horrible moments. Sadly, one of them is given away in the DVD menu, but that was the cheapest anyway: very few of the killings are of the ‘nasty trick’ variety and you might be misled if you think that the whole film is a big bag of ‘What a way to go!’ There’s also very little outright torture here. Unlike whatever crawling sub-genre Hostel fits into, the characters aren’t subjected to a string of gruesome, ultimately pointless endurance tests – if you’re gonna die, you die.
Maybe that’s what’s so perversely ‘good’ about it. Manhunt doesn’t even seem to be trying to be different, it’s just getting on with it in a way that the writers are confident is the best method. If one bullet works more effectively than somebody being hamstringed, burnt and having an eye gouged out, that’s what happens. And it’s the bits in-between that do the most damage – there aren’t many American films which would make you sit there for ten minutes watching two characters doing almost nothing but, my God, it works.
In reality I doubt any pursuit situation would be relentless, non-stop action, and this is all the more believable for having periods of silence. The killers are never introduced or explained and so we never have to focus on them, which allows us to stay with the victims, whatever they might be doing. If you like your films to be like Eden Lake, with no pause for breath, you’ll lose patience with this.
Being Norwegian, it’s very unlikely you’ll know any of the names involved – Henriette Bruusgaard, Lasse Valdal and Jørn Bjørn Fuller Gee mean bugger-all to me – but they act in that reasonably close-to-life way which some people call ‘bad acting’. It’s not bad acting, it’s just what would happen if you were experiencing it all for real. This may not translate to the big screen for some viewers, but it wouldn’t have worked without it.
Be aware that this has subtitles – if you don’t like reading, there are other slasher flicks available. Mind you, the Norwegian for “aaaargh!” and “noooo!” (and, amusingly, “shut up”) aren’t far removed from their English counterparts. I might try watching it again without the translation just to see if it gets any better without having to think about the language difference.
So, I’ve set out my stall, and even I don’t know why this is a success where others have failed me miserably. But a success it was, and while it wasn’t a ‘pleasant’ surprise, it made a change not to be thinking all the same old thoughts while the same old kids suffered the same old deaths in the same old woods.
Manhunt is out today.