Forget everything you know about chainsaw-wielding Texan maniacs. The UK is quite capable of creating its own inbred freaks, thanks; though it's possible we don't have woods large enough to get lost in for long, particularly if you've got a car. But that's where the fantasy element (and willing suspension of disbelief) comes in. Small Town Folk sees a young couple accidentally straying into the fairytale-gone-wrong town of Grockleton, where the locals don't take kindly to outsiders. Soon, Jon and Susan find themselves running for their lives from a motley crew of grubby weirdos.
The visual style of the movie is ambitious, particularly considering the budgetary constraints. (Small Town Folk was made for tuppence and a handful of shiny buttons -- or, about £4,000 of the filmmakers' own money.) Most of it was shot using green screens, with miniatures and computer-generated animation making up the otherworldly backgrounds. There's a slightly blurred, dreamlike quality to it, which is atmospheric as well as just plain looking great. It's a pity that some of the scenes look like they’ve just been shot in the woods, though, because occasionally these don't quite match up.
Each of the townsfolk looks the part, too; strange, dirty and dangerous, there's some inspired character design going on. Pooch, particularly, is worthy of mention -- quite how Jon Nicholas pulled off that facial distortion for such a period of time without doing himself serious damage is beyond me (assuming, of course, that he hasn't actually done himself an injury). Other highlights include cameo appearances by ex-Ewok Warwick Davis and Howard Lew Lewis, formerly one of Maid Marian's Merry Men, but there are possibly too many characters in Small Town Folk. As a result, several of them are under-developed; the constant stream of weird-looking baddies in the woods gets slightly wearing after a while, especially since none of the good guys ever really seems to be in danger. Chris R. Wright, impressively menacing as the Landlord, is probably the scariest of the lot, but some of the others could easily have been done away with.
The other problem, and I really hate to say this, is that after the incredibly promising opening scenes, the middle of the film sags pretty badly. Although the climax picks up again, it soon becomes clear that there's not quite enough story to go around. Small Town Folk was originally supposed to have been a short, which might go some way towards explaining why it seems to run out of steam after a while. So many brilliant elements were put in place but not exploited to their full potential (speaking of running out of steam, that steam engine is an awesome bit of kit, but it doesn't get to ever actually do anything) which is really frustrating.
The best thing about this movie might be its music. The theme song, played over the credits at the beginning of the movie, is inspired -- fast-paced, noisy and actually kind of frightening, both lyrically and because of the growly vocals. The rest of the background music is great, too; much more effective and professional than you'd expect for a movie made, as mentioned earlier, on not-very-much-money.
Small Town Folk shows a lot of promise. There're plenty of funny moments and a couple of creepy ones, and visually, it's really, really interesting; radically different from anything other indie filmmakers are even attempting. It just needed a bit more of a story to explain why all these weird and wonderful characters are doing what they're doing. For a film with no industry support and no financial investment, it's an impressive offering, and I'm convinced these guys will go on to do great things. This just isn't quite it.