The IndieGoGo campaign for Bonehill Road bills the horror movie as a “…true, old school, American made werewolf movie” with an absolute commitment to only using practical effects. Indeed, if you glance at the film’s poster, the most prominent character depicted is a werewolf. The hulking creature is positioned in the middle of the composition, above the title and in front of the forest in which it stalks prey. Just below that is a car with its headlights on and two humans with a flashlight huddling behind the vehicle.
An independently produced werewolf movie, whose campaign was wildly successfully (553% funded), using animatronics and special effects make-up to bring the monsters to life, and helmed by Todd Sheets, a horror veteran, and fan sounds fantastic! Where do I sign up?
Alas, as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The thing about Bonehill Road is that it’s barely a werewolf film at all, instead focusing on a crazed cannibal. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Emily (Eli DeGeer) is being beaten by her husband, and while fighting back, she bludgeons him over the head. Not caring if the jerk is dead or not, Emily collects her teenage daughter Eden (Ana Rojas-Plumberg), who just got expelled from school, and sets off driving toward her dad’s place. The mother and daughter get into a heated argument about the way Emily handled this situation. Eden suggests going to the cops and telling them what happened. Emily insists that wouldn’t do a darn thing, as her husband would only spend a night in jail then be let out.
Before the plot synopsis continues, there’s a multitude of questions about the first few minutes that cross through the audience’s mind, due to the non-existent introductions and a lack of character development. The dialogue lays it on thick that Emily is this great parent who has always tried her best to raise Eden. However, none of the actions shown or displayed, later on, prove this to be true. After the werewolf attack, she is in more hysterics than her daughter, who, considering everything, keeps a cool head.
“…it’s a werewolf they grazed, and now three such creatures are after them.”
Also, is the husband a cop? Is that why he’d only get a slap on the wrist for such terrible acts? Is he best friends with the sheriff? Based on everything the viewer is told and shown, there is nothing that makes Emily’s statement about not going to the cops make sense.
For that matter, Eden being expelled from school serves no point in the film. It is never mentioned again, nor is it the reason her father goes off the handle (the first scene is him beating Emily before Eden returns home from school) and does little to endure the audience to this character. For the entire movie, no matter what else happens, in the back of the viewer’s mind is always the question, what horrible thing did Eden do to get kicked out of school?
One might be reading this and wondering if I am nitpicking the base set-up for Bonehill Road. I think not, as one needs to get to know these characters to empathize with them, and thus when the (more) horrific events start happening, the audience has a reason to root for the protagonists’ survival. As it is, the setup fails to render the leads relatable or sympathetic. There are ways around this, such as make Eden come home early from an after school activity; ie- drama club got canceled, not have been expelled for literally no reason. Then show the audience that Emily did go to the cops once before, and they did not detain her husband.
Anyways, Emily collides with a giant, hairy beast and blows out a tire, which causes them to hit a tree. Emily tries to restart the car, but the engine won’t turn over. Then a giant claw appears on the window, then another, and another. The family members discover that it was not a bear, as hypothesized, instead, it’s a werewolf they grazed, and now three such creatures are after them.
Escaping through the trunk, Emily and Eden race along and come across a house. Don’t bother asking how an injured Emily and a teenager can outrun angry werewolves who were upon them just seconds ago, because Bonehill Road does not address this odd oversight at all. They knock on the door, no one answers, but the front door is unlocked. Entering the abode, Emily and Eden discover two people tied to chairs in the kitchen. They cut these kidnapped ladies loose when Coen (Douglas Epps), the man responsible sneaks behind Eden and thwarts the escape attempt.
“…shot with no semblance of style or atmosphere…”
Coen, a serial killing cannibal, forces Eden to help him slice up other victims, who are upstairs. Then he cooks up the flesh and makes his living victims eat it. Meanwhile, Emily’s dad finds the abandoned car and has a (very) brief run-in with the werewolves. Eventually, he comes across Coen’s abode as well. However, the monsters did follow him, which means all the threats are now converged in one location. Do Emily and Eden survive their night of ever-increasing tragedies?
Writer-director Todd Sheets is no stranger to independent horror movies, having worked on over 50 films since the 1980s. That makes Bonehill Road’s passiveness all the more perplexing. Putting aside the barebones characters and the awkward plot structure, the directing fails to wring atmosphere or tension out of any of the situations that occur. The camera is either an extreme close of one, or more, of an actor’s face; too close for comfort to be honest, or so jarring in its movements it is discombobulating. For example, the opening beating of Emily in which the two adults are taking up 95% of the screen, so what is happening is not apparent. This does not generate dread, in part as there is no context, t is violence for violence sake, which numbs the viewer to further bloodshed. But, also because the actors’ bodies obfuscate all movement, making the action unclear.
The cinematography has no visual flair, so every scene looks flat and dull. Despite how dark a lot of the movie is, there are no chills or thrills to be found. Said darkness makes a lot of the action hard to see versus creating a sense of impending doom for anyone hapless enough to be out there. To top that off, when there is an action beat or two, the editing is so frantic and crazy it is hard to follow anything going on at times. Throw in the shocking amount of continuity errors, and you get a movie that is unpleasant to watch.
Then there’s the lack of werewolves briefly mentioned already. The first one appears 15 minutes in and lasts for roughly 10 minutes. There’s nothing wrong with starting by building character and then going into the action. But, aside from one 5 minute interval involving Emily’s father, werewolves are offscreen for half an hour or so. Moreover, once they do come back, to eat and mangle everyone in Coen’s house, it is not exciting.
The reason for this lack of engagement from the audience is because of how disposable the werewolves are. Honestly, they could be switched out for the mask-wearing creeps from The Strangers, particularly brutal zombies, or mutant bears, and the story wouldn’t change at all. The awful, terrible designs of the creatures and the cheapness of the suits only further estrange the audience from the onscreen chaos.
Mind you a movie does not need to be about the beasts to still work. Wolfen (technically not werewolves, but close enough) is a police procedural where the killers are Native American wolf spirits. They drive the action forward in that movie, whereas the werewolves don’t do anything like that here. In The Beast Must Die, the identity of the cursed human is not given away until the ending moments of the film. Both of those films work rather well, given the eras they were made in.
Bonehill Road proves to be a crushing disappointment. The werewolves, which the filmmakers are heavily marketing, look bad and don’t figure into the plot in any meaningful way. The acting ranges from wildly over the top, to trying too hard, to unfathomably grating. Since the whole affair is shot with no semblance of style or atmosphere, there is nothing to recommend about the movie.
Bonehill Road (2018) Directed by Todd Sheets. Written by Todd Sheets. Starring Eli DeGeer, Ana Rojas-Plumberg, Douglas Epps, Linnea Quigley, Millie Milan, Andrew Baltes, Clinton Baysinger, Logan Boese.
2 Claws (out of 10)