The Barge People (2019)

Director: Charlie Steeds
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Starring: Kate Davies-Speak, Mark McKirdy, Makenna Guyler, Natalie Martins, Matt Swales, Kane Surry, Emma Spurgin Hussey, Tim Cartwright, Carl Andersson, David Lenik, Barrington De La Roche, Sam Lane, Harrison Nash

Coping from the loss of their mother, sisters Kat (Kate Davies-Speak) and Sophie (Natalie Martins) go on a barge holiday in the British countryside, joined by their partners, Mark (Mark McKirdy) and Ben (Matt Swales). Their plans to have a relaxing weekend away are thrown into disarray, as Ben refuses to get off his phone to work, and they collide with another barge, housing an ill-tempered family. But they're all unaware of a greater issue lurking in the water, a family of fish-faced mutants ready to feast on human flesh.

A nail-biting creature feature set along the River Avon, what director Charlie Steeds has brought to screen will give you second thoughts about taking that stroll in the countryside. The idyllic setting certainly looks lovely, but the way the tension ratchets up and is held makes for an intense experience. The moment which stays in the mind takes place entirely on a barge, as the cramped setting is utilised to great effect, where blood flows while the characters fight for survival. The end result feels inspired by horror features from the 70's and 80's, complete with retro credits, and a score reminiscent of John Carpenter's work.

Running for a tight 78 minutes, the essential elements are neatly compacted, without any baggage being felt. Enough time is given to form a connection with the characters, as well as believing in their relationships. Even when a character is largely unlikeable such as the work-obsessed Ben, a little moment he spends with Sophie makes one understand their relationship, and trust in how they feel for one another. No matter what difficulties the characters go through, we believe in them and their decisions, which is thanks to a combination of Christopher Lombard's script-work, and the terrific performances we bear witness to. The standout performance comes from Kate Davies-Speak, who conveys Kat's hopes to enjoy a nice holiday and take time off her personal loss, which are dashed by a horrendous descent into terror.

A feature such as this can live or die on the design of its antagonists, and the design work of the sea creatures are phenomenal to bear witness to. The decision to keep the amphibian design limited to the heads is likely a budgetary issue, but that doesn't diminish things, with the end resulting resembling the dread inducing love children of Jason Voorhees and The Creature From The Black Lagoon. They're imposing figures who strike fear when they appear on-screen, and it wouldn't work as well without the physical performances of Carl Andersson, Sam Lane, and Harrison Nash selling the ravenous beastly nature of their characters.

The Barge People is a nightmarish descent into horror that gets under your skin, and will have you wary about strolling down the canals. Think of an Aquatic The Hills Have Eyes, and you're there. The Countryside Has Gills, anyone?