Monday, 13 April 2015

Countrycide written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Andy Goddard

This story in a nutshell: A cannibal community has begun their harvest in the Brecon Beacons…

The Torchwood Crew: This is more of an ensemble than we have seen so far and it is nice to see everybody working together (or should that be dying together) in such an effective way. There is the usual too much focus on sex (this really is the horniest unit ever to have been assembled on television) but I appreciated the effort Chibnall went to to separate them from all their usual tacky comforts and focussing on their core professional strengths. Plus it's nice to see the usually unflappable Torchwood crew genuinely frightened out of their wits for a change, they often belittle the drama of the piece by taking the piss out of everything but here they are really in risk of being pummelled to death with a baseball bat and eaten. Nasty. Everybody getting on in Torchwood is what we call in the trade a miracle and this week they are off on a team building exercise to the Brecon Beacons. They play who’s the last person you snogged and for Owen it was Gwen (which earns her a ‘didn’t take you long to get your feet under the table’ from Tosh) and for Tosh it was also Owen but last Christmas which shows that she doesn’t have much interest at the moment. Owen and Gwen almost have a clinch in the woods where he tries to chat her up with some of the ugliest lines you will hear a character on TV say. Clearly Gwen is tempted because her relationship with Rhys is cosy and yet with Owen it would be dangerous and unpredictable and it scares the shit out of her. Does Jack ever get scared? Ianto looks far less stiff in civvies, it's nice to see him out and about in jeans. Jack is the only character I can think of who would look this camp bursting onto a grisly horror scene brandishing a shot gun. Tosh is surprisingly calm in captivity and it appears she gets a high from the danger her lifestyle provides and thinks the dangers are worth the risk to protect people. Torchwood seems a little in denial about the evils of the world, always trying to blame the rift for horrors that are much closer to home. Jack knows how to torture people…he used to be the ‘go to’ guy for the Time Agency because he knew precisely where to apply pressure and cause the maximum hurt. Owen finally gets his way with Gwen and she proves what a weak woman she is after all. Alas, the only likable character in Torchwood joins the others in being selfish and self centred. What an ugly world these characters live in.

God-awful Torchwood sex talk: ‘Need a hand getting it up Owen?’
‘When was the last time you screwed all night? When was the last time you cam so long and so hard you forgot where you are?’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every ten years it takes us again. The harvest.’
‘We’re all just meat.’
‘Time to be bled.’

The Good Stuff: The teaser is a superbly directed horror set piece; driving through the countryside at night, a body in the road that turns out to be a fake to lure our victim her from the car, the tyres let down slowly, the keys stolen, scraping sounds on the roof when she tries to hide inside the car, dragged off into the hills…clichés all but only clichés because they work and directed this brutally it is a stark and terrifying sequence. The Brecon Beacons are moody and gorgeous and our heroes look dwarfed by the isolated, rocky backdrop. There’s a skinned corpse in the forest attracting flies and maggots, understandably putting two members of Torchwood off of their horny clinch. The SUV is stolen (it should have been the end of the camp as Christmas vehicle) which traps our heroes (and I use the term loosely) in the Beacon . I love how Chibnall builds this story as having a supernatural horror with unseen, growling POVs because it makes the truth that these are just insane ordinary people all the more disturbing. A bloody corpse in the kitchen, rotting food, an abandoned village, what a brilliantly unpleasant atmosphere this episode conjures. There are lots of shots of unseen characters darting across the camera out of sight of our heroes. Being locked up in a cellar is another horror cliché but this time there is a fridge full of human meat (and all the shoes and clothes of previous victims really sells how many people have ended up this way). The reveal of bloody meat hanging up in the kitchen in bloody plastic is one that always turns my stomach. It’s probably the sickest moment in Torchwood, so disturbing in its clinical directness proving that occasionally the shows lack of subtlety can yield the right results. When you realise these are just regular people (regular as in human beings rather than flesh devouring aliens from the rift, cannibalistic in-breds are hardly your average citizen in the Beacons) harvesting human meat the episode gets even more frightening. The meat has to be tenderised and they smack people to death with a baseball bat. Lovely. Tosh runs through the woods in true horror movie style and the music here is brilliant. Owen Teale’s Evan is the scariest thing I have seen on television in many a year, purring like a cat and licking his lips. It is an actor committing completely to a loathsome role. For once you feel that the gang is in real danger and there isn’t an alien in sight! Every generation this village harvest human meat, once a decade. Denying Gwen the answers she needs to understand why they have done this gives the end of the episode a little more frisson.

The Bad Stuff: ‘Does anyone know you’re here?’ – come on Tosh and Ianto surely you aren’t going to fool for that ‘I’m in the same boat as you and want to know if you’ve managed to call for outside help?’ routine. Gwen and Owen are just as stupid not realising that the policeman is one of them. Torchwood really is on the retarded side sometimes. This story seems to promote the idea that the Welsh are a bunch of primitive, violent, cannibalistic in-breds. Hardly the sort of attention the tourist board craves. What a shame the ending is so bloody and brainless, it makes Jack look stupid for not being able to think up anything smarter than driving through the wall and gunning everybody down. Mind you how else could an episode this bloodthirsty end?

Result: Countrycide is a mini horror movie, brainless but very scary and very nasty. It is full of clichés of the genre but staged with such brutal clarity it transcends the stereotyped nature of the script and is ultimately a very effective and genuinely frightening slice of horror. The cannibal community is a ridiculous idea that they somehow manage to pull off with some of the most disturbing nasties around  doing some very sick things to our heroes and denying them any sense of closure. It's interesting that it takes something this nasty to make us feel sorry for the regulars at this point, they are so vile themselves that it takes a bunch of people even more loathsome to revolt them. This wont be everybody’s cup of tea but as a huge fan of the genre I found it gripping, stylish and thoroughly enjoyable to watch: 8/10


Anonymous said...

" Ianto looks far less stiff in civvies" ... oh, er

Jonathan said...

Nice review I wondered what your thoughts on Small Worlds are?

David K. M. Klaus said...

This is the episode which really put me off Torchwood as a show, not because the grisliness (which was bad enough to be nightmare-inducing) but because of the stupidity of Gwen (and therefore the writers). She has a gun on a baddie, another baddie pulls one on her in turn, she cries, and gives up her weapon.


The late Donald Hamilton in one of his "Matt Helm" novels described what you do if you're the good guy in this situation: You shoot the bad guy you have in your sights! If you do go down, you will have taken one of them with you. Or it might prove the falsity of the myth that just because someone has a gun on you that you always have to do exactly as they say, and if the second bad guy believes that myth, he or she may be startled enough by your action that you can turn and shoot her/him in that moment of surprise.

This is basic logic to anyone who thinks about the reality of firearms usage, as Mr. Hamilton, a man experienced and comfortable with firearms, did. Gwen should have known better, and that was the moment I gave up on the show.

I have to admit that by "Children of Earth" and "Miracle Day" Gwen (and then Rhys) were much more sensible in their handling of weapons.

David K. M. Klaus said...

P. S.: Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! May you both live as long as you love and love as long as you live.

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