Hey – novice fright filmmakers. Here’s a mandatory rule of thumb to follow when trying to deliver the shivers. If you can’t show your gore, don’t make a movie that is more or less reliant on same. If your version of the Memphis Meat Cleaver Massacre is going to feature all of its kills off-camera, perhaps you shouldn’t even bother. True, budgetary concerns can be a factor, and perhaps that best buddy of yours wasn’t the F/X wizard he claimed to be, but if you can’t unleash the sluice, you should definitely alter your cinematic intentions. Are you listening Gnaw and director Gregory Mandry? We get that you want to make a UK version of a cannibal cavalcade, a combination of The Hills Have Eyes, Tobe Hopper’s Texas Chain Saw epic, and about a billion other human meat spectacles. But no blood = no good. Sorry, it just can’t be said any other way.
Our story begins with a young girl vomiting (how prophetic). Her name is Lorrie and she is traveling to a remote cottage with her pals Jack, Judd, Jill, Matt and Hannah. They want to settle in for a weekend of partying and other illicit activities. But when they arrive at their location, their plans are quickly sidetracked. Blackstock Farm seems deserted, and while the table is spread with all manner of cakes and savory meat pies, the overall aura is dark and dreary. Things don’t get much better when creepy proprietor Mrs. Obadiah shows up. She seems overly nice, desperate to stuff her guests with all manner of steak and kidney snacks. Of course, what the visitors don’t realize is that the flesh is not prime – it’s people. That’s right, our gang has landed smack dab into the middle of an isolated butchery, Mrs. Obadiah and her sinister son harvesting the clientele for all the best cuts.
When you hear the premise and read the title, you expect certain things from Gnaw. You expect ample amounts of arterial spray, characters carved open with guts and other F/X offal spewing out all over the screen. You anticipate lots of skin snacking, villains making vittles out of the various heroes and heroines. There should be a few sequences of extreme vivisection, power tools and other unreal implements of death utilized to make mince out of the cast members. And the filmmaker should relish in the grue, providing gallons of the red stuff in a blood-infused orgy of murder and mayhem. Unfortunately, Gnaw offers none of these things. Like a Friday the 13th sequel from the good old MPAA censorship days, this is a dull little fright flick that hopes to get away with killing its constituents off screen, away from prying eyes. In doing so, director Mandry destroys his chances for cinematic success.
There is nothing else holding our attention here: not the worked up soap operatics between one incredibly jerk and the two girls who go ga-ga over him; not the nice guy destined to finish last (and perhaps, be picked off first); not the oversexed couple who can’t keep their hands off each other long enough to recognize the man in the corner with the animal carcass covering his face. Even the old lady with the bad British teeth is so obvious a red herring that her arrival should be met with a complimentary cup of cucumber sauce. Gnaw is needlessly slow, overarch in its exposition, tedious in its tendency to backtrack (how many times do we need to see Lorrie puke to recognize the early onset of pregnancy) and unable to deliver anything remotely resembling dread. In its place, we get some decent local atmosphere, a couple of clever set-ups, and a moment of two of suspense so fleeting it barely matters.
Mandry may deserve credit for doing his best with what is clearly an underwritten screenplay (by Michael Bell and Max Waller), but in a direct to DVD domain where clots and gratuity rule, offering neither is a recipe for commercial disaster. Fans who come looking for an unusual bit of bloodshed will go away angry, while seasoned gorehounds will demand their poorly spent rental fees back. Since the story set-up is so basic and borrowed from a dozen better fright films, Gnaw has to try and distinguish itself from the rest of the pack. Sadly, all it can do is wallow in its own amateurishness, going about its splatter-less slaughter in an anemic a way as possible. If this movie were any more by the numbers, it would come with a set of paints and a numbered black velvet canvas.
The digital packaging doesn’t improve matter much. Since this movie was made on that newest of interim technology – the high end video camera – the transfer retains a true homemade feel. Even the attempts at ethereal lighting and exterior ambience come face-to-face with such a set-up’s limitations. As for added content, Dark Sky Films finds ways of making even the most meaningful bonus features feel dry and uninteresting. The behind the scenes featurette does offer some insight, but its often overtaken by an inordinate amount of backslapping. The commentary from director Mandry is equally self-congratulatory. While he does recognize the movie’s limits, he also argues for the effectiveness of the various deaths. Clearly, he is watching something other than what the audience can enjoy.
Like many examples of the genre, a half-baked horror film like Gnaw demands rebuff. Even with the caveat that creep-outs, like comedy, are very personal in perspective, keeping the good stuff off the side is a scary movie no-no that only the rarest film can overcome. It takes a certain level of cinematic skill and categorical creativity to keep an audience interested once you’ve revealed your lack of splat. Gregory Mandry, while capable, just doesn’t have that level of motion picture legerdemain to offer. Instead, he drags us out into the country and leaves us there to rot, assured that he can somehow salvage the static situation. He can’t. Gnaw needed to be over the top and ultra-extreme in its treatment of the cannibal call. Even the Sawyers would find themselves snoring through this ineffectual mess.