Spoiler-Free Reviews: HERD and CHEAT (Pigeon Shrine FrightFest)

August 29, 2023

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at josephperry@gmail.com. He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

HERD (2023)


I’m admittedly a hard sell on zombie fare, but am open to seeing if new releases have something different to offer. Although director Stephen Pierce’s Herd follows many of the subgenre’s familiar beats and tropes, it does serve up some novel takes along with surprises near the end that provide food for thought. Despite news reports of a pandemic outbreak, Jamie Miller (Ellen Adair) and her girlfriend Alex Kanai (Mitzi Akaha) set out on a canoe trip in an attempt to save their fractured relationship. During their travels, the outbreak results in the infected becoming covered in boils, suffering headaches, and becoming aggressive — the latter only when provoked, though. Scratches from the infected result in spreading the outbreak. Alex makes an unwise impulsive decision that results in a broken leg for her and that puts the couple in peril not only with the “heps,” as the infected are called here, but also with a cult-like community — with which Jamie is familiar because of her abusive father — headed up by a man called Big John (Jeremy Holm), who tries to be more sensible than many of the group’s shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later members, and a rival organized militia. Herd proffers commentary on recent and current social issues including pandemic-related and political ones while delivering relationship drama and zombie suspense. Pierce, who cowrote the screenplay with James Allerdyce, helms his film impressively and is aided by terrific performances from Adair, Akaha, Holms, and a sizable supporting cast.  


High Fliers presents the UK home entertainment release of Herd on 23rd October, 2023.



CHEAT (2023)


Cowriters/codirectors Kevin Ignatius and Nick Psinakis combine stalk-and-slay and supernatural elements in Cheat, in which the ghost of a girl who was named Clara Miller (April Clark) — she was slain by her father in the late 1800s after she murders the woman with whom he was committing adultery — kills those who cheat in relationships in present-day Silvercreek, Pennsylvania. Student Maeve Johnson (Corin Clay) comes to the college town on an art scholarship and has an affair with head of her host family Charlie Walker (Michael Thyer), whose daughter recently committed suicide and whose wife is institutionalized because of that. Ghostly Clara’s modus operandi is to do away with her victims in manners that make it look like they killed themselves — so that no one will suspect her, according to the script — which leads Maeve, the deceased girl’s best friend Lydia (Danielle Grotsky), and others to try and solve a historical mystery widely believed to be an urban legend before they are killed by the specter. If you are wondering why a ghost would try to cover its tracks when killing people, you will have further questions such as why and how the hunted and haunted possible future victims plan to kill the ghost in a flesh-and-blood manner. Clay does a solid job as the protagonist but other performances range from okay to not very good to scenery chewing. Cheat provides plenty more head-scratching, chin-rubbing moments, providing entertainment in ways that the filmmakers might not have originally meant. Curse-movie and ghost-film completists may be most interested in this feature, but they will likely have seen much of the proceedings already in other slices of cinema, and often done more interestingly.   




Herd and Cheat screened as part of  the 2023 Pigeon Shrine FrightFest, which ran August 24–28 in London. For more information, visit https://frightfest.co.uk/.


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