November. The month of Turkey, stuffing, gathering around the dinner table with your family, and saying what you are thankful for. However, what if instead of your in-laws, a group of crazy, psychotic homeless people invited themselves over and held your family hostage at the dinner table? In the sub-genre of horror films, you can sometimes find filmmakers taking a traditionally innocent and festive holiday or holiday icon and turning its head. However, one such holiday sorely lacking in horror spinoffs is Thanksgiving, which is where Derelicts (2017) comes in.
Directed by Brett Glassberg (also known for directing segment “M is for Mind Meld” in ABCs of Death 2.5) and written by Glassberg, Clay Shirley (who also plays Sal in the film) and Andre Evrenos (who plays Turk in the film) in their feature directorial/writing debut, Derelicts introduces us to a dysfunctional family on Thanksgiving Day. From the over-sexed grandparents, to the squabbling siblings and an emotionless husband who seems uninterested in touching his wife, all appears normal. That is until a gang of vicious vagrants invades their home, not only to cause havoc, but also laying bare everyone’s faults and inhumanity while exposing some family secrets along the way.
This film has a really old-fashion, 1970s horror look and feel to it. Part of that comes from the fact that this film is really low budget, so there’s a lot of creativity when it comes to the camera work, music, and kills that is reminiscent of older horror techniques. Even the opening credits, with the music, the POV shots, and the fade in and outs are all very reminiscent of films like The Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think while the lower budget look and feel to the movie do serve as an advantage, especially when it comes to, say, the music, editing, storytelling choices, and creative kills, it does at times feel a little too referential at times, particularly in the first half. The family and the guests spent a lot of time at the dinner table, which reminded me a little too much of the iconic dinner scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre in a way that was a bit too distracting. But I think when Morgan (Marcela Pineda) enters the picture is when the film really finds its footing and fully embraces itself.
The acting for me was a mixed bag. All of the actors who played the guests were fantastic. They were not only well written antagonists, but I thought all of the actors played really well off of eachother. The two standouts for me were Les Best (Like Arrows, “The Leftovers”) and Same Pleasant (“Prison Break,” “Friday Night Lights”) as Black Forrest. In addition to playing their parts really well – with Pleasant in particular having one really great stand out scene towards the end – they really helped set the energy for the film and all of them were legitimately threatening and honestly a bit fun. Unfortunately, in a horror film, you really need to feel the terror that the victims/protagonists experience, that way when they start fighting back it’s all the more satisfying, and most of the actors who played the family weren’t that convincing. The only one that was a little bit for me was Kelly Dealyn as Constance, but even then there’s very little reaction to the pain the guests were causing the family. That is, until Marcela Pineda (“Down to Film”) as Morgan comes into the picture. She’s definitely the strongest actor of all the victims in the film. I really bought her terror and felt it was a shame her story arc ended the way it did. It was also a shame because she does not come into the story until about halfway through, which is a shame as she is one of strongest actors outside of the guests.
The film has a lot of interesting style choices, particularly with the editing and the over the top gore. The camera work wasn’t anything special except for a few really good shots in the beginning and the end, most of it I found to be pretty forgettable. The film was very low budget so it’s understandable they would have to cut corners with some of the heavier effect scenes, however, it really stands out in this one fight scene that was so terribly shot that I couldn’t even tell what was happening. The gore was also really fun. There are two scenes in particular that stand out to me, one involving an eye and another with severed fingers. Some of the blood effects again were not very convincing, so that took me out of it a bit.
As I mentioned, there were a lot of interesting editing choices. Speed up footage, split screen, on screen subtitles, and low lighting to represent a character’s psyche are just son of the stylistic choices taken in the direction and editing. At times I think it does really work, particularly at the beginning when the tension is starting to build, and later when split screen is used in a particular sequence. The low lighting being used for Constance’s psyche I also thought was a fun choice. However, there were other times, particularly in the middle, where some of the editing choices felt a little out of nowhere or confusing. I mentioned the fight scene, but there was also this subplot involving the daughter (Emily Ammon) having a mental breakdown while running a track, and that sort of gets brought back when she is trying to escape from the guests. But it really doesn’t have much bearing on the plot and just feels like the way it was used in that scene to stretch the film out.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Unfortunately, some weak acting, camera work, and confusing editing and directorial choices keep this film from being a truly entertaining, low budget horror invasion film. However, it’s balanced out by it’s low budget, 70s/80s horror style and direction, successful and effectively implemented editing choices, entertaining and well acted antagonists, clever kills and at times clever script subversions. The film is also very well paced and takes very good advantage of it’s simple premise and setting. All this makes for a fun Thanksgiving themed horror film that will sure make you reconsider what you’re thankful for.