I’d never heard two beans about the Butcher Brothers, so I Googled ‘em. Apparently, they’re not real, per se. Rather, they’re the “filmmaking alter egos of American film directors Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores.” Are their careers that notorious that they’d actually need alter egos? Apparently, they think so. I guess if some parts of THE THOMPSONS are any indication, I can understand the desire to seek anonymity, but it ain’t all that bad, fellahs. Why not come out into the light – like you’ve done with your vampire creatures – and enjoy what luminosity has to offer?
(NOTE: the following review will contain minor spoilers necessary for the discussion of character and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who wants an entirely-spoiler-free assessment, then I’d encourage you to read elsewhere or, at least, zip down to the last two paragraphs for my final thoughts. However, if you can live with a few hints about things-to-come, then read on.)
THE HAMILTONS – the earliest film of the Butcher Brothers – was a 2006 horror release exploring the family values of quiet suburban California siblings who just happened to be vampires … well, that ain’t exactly right. See, truth is a bit more elusive: they’re vampires, but they’re not. They have vampire powers, but they don’t. Rather than belabor the creative point, let’s just agree that they kinda/sorta act like vampires while having the talents, skills, and abilities of vampires with the exception being all of that ‘undead’ nonsense. These are vampires that are “birthed” and not “created.” They’re vampires that need to feed on blood to survive, but they’re not vampires except for that. (Some legitimately hackneyed writing makes it all a bit more complicated than it need be.)
Anyway, THE HAMILTONS was a bit of a critical smash, garnering top prizes at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival as well as the Malibu International Film Festival.
Flash forward to 2012, and the Butcher Brothers birthed their next installment in their burgeoning film franchise, THE THOMPSONS. As fate would have it, the family has gone on the run, ending up in hiding on the other side of the pond in merry old England. It seems that their late mother spoke once or twice about being descended from a family named ‘the Mandersons.’ Hoping to connect with their ancestors as well as needing a place to lay low while the youngest recovers from life-threatening wounds, they agree to send Francis (played by screenwriter Cory Knauf) to find help.
What does he find?
Well, it ain’t all that helpful, but what he should’ve sought was a stronger script.
There’s nothing all that wrong with THE THOMPSONS. In fact, my real problem with the flick is that there’s equally as much right with it. The happenstance nature of storytelling – are they vampires? aren’t they vampires? – really spoiled some of the obvious fun of the picture probably because I spent too much time trying to figure out just how that little pickle of the story would work. Too often, narrative twists are thrown at an audience. When that’s done with so little care, it’s hard to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the picture unless there’s no further call to further suspend disbelief, but THE THOMPSONS is overwrought with one clunky premise after another when it’s pretty clear all the filmmakers want to do here is just have fun. Had they stuck to that – just enjoy the nature of schlocky horror storytelling – I might’ve enjoyed myself a bit more. So, so much of the film honestly feels like its deliberately poking fun at the world of the TWILIGHT series of films that, at one point, I thought THOMPSONS was supposed to be a farce – when the laughs stopped coming, I realized I’d been duped.
However, Knauf and his screen siblings (Mackenzie Firgins, Ryan Hartwig, Samuel Child, and Joseph McKelheer) do the best they can with the material that the Butcher Brothers (co-writing with Knauf) have provided. Knauf plays the lead much like any underwear-model-turned-actor would, but its Firgins and McKelheer as the Hamilton twins with their violent sexual appetite who deserved vastly more screen time. They milk every line (and every scene) for as much playfulness as they’re allowed, while Child and Hartwig are relegated to smaller, non-essential tweaks to this thin plot. As for the others? The Stuart family (the name the Mandersons are apparently living under now) are, sadly, largely forgettable, though the lovely Selina Giles (as ‘Mother Stuart’) brings some wicked mirth to her portrayal of the matriarch of a family of monsters not quite defined. Daniel O’Meara (as ‘Father Stuart’) spends way too much of his screen time spouting nonsensical monologues for him to ever appear authentically menacing.
THE THOMPSONS is produced by Film Harvest, San Francisco Independent Cinema, Snowfort Pictures, and Straightwire Films. DVD distribution is being handled through XLrator Media. As for the technical specs, the film is smartly produced; picture and sound quality are excellent. Also, the disc comes with an assortment of special features – production shorts focus on the mechanics of relocating the saga to England as well as establishing its own mythology and characters. It’s probably something film nerds would find interesting, but I wasn’t all that jazzed by the extra content.
Mildly RECOMMENDED. No, there may be nothing new under the sun with THE THOMPSONS … well, except vampires walking under the sun, that is … but it’s a harmless enough diversion to keep one’s interest at a scant eighty-two minutes. (I can’t help thinking about what could’ve been IF it had been longer. Better? Worse? Meh. We’ll never know.) As a horror flick, there ain’t much to be scared about; as the bad boys’ answer to TWILIGHT it could’ve used far more bite than it dished out. Too bad the more interesting characters were kept in the background, and too bad the bad guys were shackled with such incomprehensible accents. Otherwise, this might’ve been a winner.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at XLrator Media provided me with a DVD screener of THE THOMPSONS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.