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DVD Review: ‘The Helpers’

★★☆☆☆

Like many a low-budget American indie horror, director Chris Stokes’ The Helpers (2012) has followed a fairly conventional distribution trajectory. It managed a limited release in its home market of the US, gained a coveted spot at Film4’s FrightFest last November, and now makes a quiet straight-to-DVD appearance here, jostling for attention in a relentlessly over-saturated genre. The plot, as you might well guess, follows a rather familiar trajectory too. A car, loaded to the brim with drunk and horny twentysomethings on their way to Las Vegas, breaks down in the middle of the Nevada desert, miles away from civilisation.

With no mobile signal (and no spare tyres apparently), the gang happen upon a motel, where some friendly locals ply them with free drinks and rooms for the night. All, inevitably, is not what it seems, and our intrepid heroes find themselves on the wrong side of a Saw/Hostel/Psycho scenario. A flaw befalling many a cheap-and-cheerful horror, The Helpers spends precious little time on character exposition; the effect being that when our heroes inevitably find themselves in mortal danger it’s perilously tricky to conjure up even a morsel of sympathy for their plight.

The seven protagonists are scarcely distinguishable from one another. The men square of jaw; the women large of cleavage; these are empty shells of flesh masquerading as characters, with no notable characteristics or redeeming features. The villains of the piece are not much more interesting, operating under flimsy motives of revenge for a troubled childhood in an abusive orphanage. You never buy it, and neither do you buy the explanation behind the title – effectively, “You said you needed help, so we’re going to kill you!”

And that’s before we even get onto the found footage, that now-staple cinematic bandwagon which director Chris Stokes gleefully hops on, with one leg hanging off. From the start, a remarkable amount of footage is notably non-found, begging the question of why they ever bothered spuriously thrusting a Handycam into the action in the first place. This half-hearted compromise between conventional and unconventional filming methods serves nothing but a useless diversion from the horror.

With bodies ripped apart and head decapitated, it’s a grim and occasionally gruelling watch, and torture-porn disciples will be gratified by the occasional dip into the gore pool. Ultimately, The Helpers is an inconsequential sort of B-movie: not offensively terrible, but not terribly good. The cast give it a good whack, yet ultimately Stokes’ found footage bore doesn’t merit elevation beyond its assured bargain basement grave.

John Nugent