WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
By Guest Author and Horror film Expert Doug Rice
When it comes to horror films, no festive date on the calendar has gone unchallenged. Since, Bob Clark, reinvigorated the horror genre in 1974 with the classic, Black Christmas, there have been a slew of filmmakers who have attempted to similarly cash in by bringing havoc to an otherwise unassuming and pleasant holiday. Halloween, being the most accessed for obvious reasons, has had many successes with films like, Trick ‘r’ Treat, and John Carpenter’s game changer, Halloween. There have been many who have revisited Christmas and provided fun takes on the normally cheerful holiday. Films like, My Bloody Valentine, April Fools Day, and New Year’s Evil, have mined scares from lesser observed holidays. However, there are a few holidays that are still seeking a champion from the horror game. Movies that not only provide the thrills and chills but also capture and present the essence of the holiday that they are desecrating. Thanksgiving is very high on that short list.
When I was presented with the opportunity to review, Derelicts, I was excited to find out that it was actually a Thanksgiving film. Taking a look at the films artwork/poster and reading the synopsis, (Derelict hobos invade an upper-middle-class home on Thanksgiving... that’s literally it), I was moderately optimistic that this low budget indie would at least provide for some fun mayhem and help to provide an entertaining chapter in the very slim book of Thanksgiving horror. Well, I’m very disappointed to tell you that this film did neither of those things.
Derelicts, is the feature debut for writer/director, Brett Glassberg, which was initially released (at least for a few festivals) back in the fall of 2017. At first, I was a little puzzled why the film only just became available for a wider release. However, after watching the film, it became a question I didn’t have the motivation to try and answer. To be brutally honest, I don’t want to spend too much more time then I’ve already put into it... so let’s get into it.
The no-name family (we literally never get a mention of the family name) that we are introduced to early on are as miserable and unlikeable as they come. What’s worse is that they’re also terribly boring and predictable. Their characters are paper thin and given almost nothing to do but brood and behave poorly to one another. The most affable character in the film isn’t even in the family and spoiler alert... she’s not around very long. A passing remark is made that another family member is traveling to join the family for Thanksgiving dinner. A short time later, we briefly meet that member as he is carjacked and killed by our villains, who simply use the GPS that was already set to crash the holiday meal.
I wish I could tell you there was more to it. I wish I could tell you that the villainous clan was charismatic or interesting. I wish I could tell you that the interactions and/or torment that ensued was entertaining or even engaging. Instead, we are introduced to absolute cardboard cut-out baddies, with terrible makeup who are knockoffs of far more memorable horror constructs... The leader Cap, who is presented as a PTSD veteran doing his best Charlie Manson impersonation, a southern drawled, Sal, who garbles most of his lines through his clenched jaw, Bo, who is a watered down, Sheri Moon Zombie, wannabe, Turk, who is a blatant, Leatherface, ripoff without the chainsaw, and Black Forrest (who is in fact black), Cap’s war buddy that comes closest to becoming the moral conscious of the film. You’d think five supposed psychopaths with nothing to lose would bring much better to dinner.
The interactions between the two “families” are mostly ludicrous and lack any real tension. The derelicts are more annoying then menacing and many of the uncomfortable moments are only that because they draw out for an eternity with little payoff. The residents often cower or look away when met with mostly hollow threats and the violence feels forced and pointless. I feel like there were many times where, Glassberg, was trying to be shocking or inspire real contempt, but much of it comes off as juvenile. However, the biggest issue that I have is that there is no real character growth or arc for anyone involved. The “hero” family doesn’t ever bond together to overcome nor do they ever
personally develop past their weakly presented silhouette. Likewise, the villains just kind of linger without doing much more then their cheesy, haunted house gimmicks.
I kept expecting some big twist or reveal that would give the movie more context or present some greater moral in the feeble story, but it never came. The closest we come to that is a poorly executed speech by, Black Forrest, near the end of the film in which he basically says that the real family has far greater problems then their own makeshift, hobo family but are still regarded and treated as if they were lesser. The ending was equally unsatisfying and I was mostly just relieved that it was over. For a film that barely qualifies as a feature (a meager 70 minutes), it felt like your worst Thanksgiving experience drawn out over the course of an entire day.
Home invasion films have only really become a popular sub-genre of horror films for the past few decades. Movies where the stranger not only knocks on your door, but then kicks it in and occupies your sacred space. Derelicts, was an obvious attempt to ratchet up the experience by adding to that format at a time of year where you and your family are feeling the most secure. On paper, the premise could have been very memorable. Unfortunately, for all involved, this film is just memorably bad. I give it ZERO stars. If you’re in the mood for a better experience, you can blindly pick out any home invasion film on a search engine that I’m confident will do a better job.
If you’re a glutton for punishment and don’t want to take my word for it, Derelicts, is currently available (from now until Christmas) for FREE on YouTube. I know for some it’s easier to stomach a movie for free, no matter how awful. However, in this horror hounds opinion, you should avoid it like your least favorite Thanksgiving side dish.
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