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Review: The Barge People (2018)

Charlie Steeds (An English Haunting, Death Ranch) is back. Well sort of. Shot in 2017, The Barge People has actually been making the festival rounds since 2018. And there’s been much talk of what a delightfully old school bloodbath it was. The Hills Have Eyes, but with actual mutants was a common description. And that’s the kind of thing I want to hear about a film.

Kat (Kate Davies-Speak, The Summoner, Invasion Planet Earth) and Sophie (Natalie Martins, Kill or be Killed) along with boyfriends Ben (Matt Swales) and Mark (Mark McKirdy, Electric Man) are taking a holiday on the water. Not a sea cruise but a barge trip through the canals of England. Things are already off to a rough start as the two men don’t get along. Then an accidental bumping of Ricky (Kane Surry) and Jade’s (Mackenna Guyler, Coulrophobia, Blood Bags) barge leads to further hostilities.

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But they’re going to have to put them aside. Because there’s something a lot worse in these waters. A cross between the creatures from Dagon and Humanoids from the Deep. And they’re hungry.

While maybe not quite as gory as its reputation would have it, The Barge People certainly delivers plenty of nastiness. Steed teases us with an early attack, giving us a hint of what the mutants are capable of. Then he unleashes a full out assault the likes of which I haven’t seen in some time. People are hacked, stabbed, bludgeoned and eaten alive in a relentless, fast-paced massacre.

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Of course, the film can’t keep this pace up. But what it settles into isn’t any less unsettling. If you’ve seen Steeds’ film Cannibal Farm, then you’ll have an idea what to expect. Writer Christopher Lombard delivers a script full of brutal set-pieces, which Steeds films with considerable gusto. Case in point, a duel with machetes, one of which happens to be on a long length of chain.

All of this is done with practical effects. The Barge People themselves are the result of some delightfully disgusting latex work. I’m sure I’ll be seeing them in my nightmares.

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Granted, The Barge People may overdo the retro by recycling out a few plot twists that have long since stopped being unexpected. But overall this is not only the director’s best film but one of the best monster movies of the past several years.

Already out in Germany as Mutant River, The Barge People will be available in the US on August 18, 2020. You can check the film’s Facebook page and website for more details.

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