The Boonies

The Boonies serves as an excellent argument for more films to be made in the Johnstown area. The aesthetic and natural beauty of the landscape can serve so many different types of stories and cinematographer Jeffrey Smee really captures that.

The Boonies, a 2021 horror movie written by Lance Parkin and Matt Schultz, was filmed in and around the Johnstown area. That alone got me excited when I heard about the film. I love horror movies and a low budget has never stopped me from enjoying one. 

There is a lot to say about The Boonies in terms of quality. 

I went in thrilled at the prospect of Johnstown producing art in my favorite medium, and simply hoping for a campy-fun, B movie. 

While there is certainly a campy fun feel to the film, there also are aspects that are on par with any Hollywood production – namely, the cinematography.

Certain shots in the film are downright beautiful. The Boonies serves as an excellent argument for more films to be made in the Johnstown area. The aesthetic and natural beauty of the landscape can serve so many different types of stories and cinematographer Jeffrey Smee really captures that. 

Beyond the natural beauty, I never felt like any scene was a “Set it up, we’ll make it work!” kind of shot. It felt like Parkin and Smee were always in control of exactly what they wanted to show. 

I also thought the script was well written. I’ve watched quite a bit of horror in my time (and played Resident Evil 7) so I caught the homages and imagery they worked with to build the narrative. 

All that being said, I do feel some things hold The Boonies back. 

The acting, with some notable exceptions, is where the film struggles the most. Perhaps a few of the roles should have been switched around to better match the actors’ personalities and strengths. Fortunately, if you’re familiar with the genre of low-budget horror, then the acting probably won’t be a deal breaker for you.

Secondly, there is a huge uptick in intrigue in the film’s third act. The scenery changes to inside the antagonists’ creepy home, the cinematography transitions to a different, much creepier horror aesthetic. The two primary antagonists, who were the worst offenders acting-wise, unmask and become so much better. Also, the film’s absolute stand-out performance is introduced. 

It could have helped the pacing – and created even more intrigue – if these elements were introduced earlier. 

Though I do understand hiding one of these aspects until the end. Christine Mancini as Mama comes out of nowhere as a powerhouse. Her performance is absolutely delicious, she chews the whole scene up and even elevates the performances of everyone she shares the screen with. 

For a longtime horror fan, it was a delight. 

Finally, a few warnings are in order. This film has gore which can get fairly intense at times and likely is only suited to fans of the genre who know what to expect. 

Also, unfortunately, the film seems to play deeply into the gay villain stereotype in a way I found a bit troubling. Don’t get me wrong, villains can be gay. But horror always seeks to prey on the fears of its audience and The Boonies seems to prey the straight man’s fear of men who are attracted to men. I’ll give the creators the benefit of the doubt that this may not be intentional subtext.

For those comfortable with the above content warnings, Johnstown fans of horror should check out The Boonies. Perhaps so should local talents interested in seeing a glimpse of what Johnstown’s future in film might hold. Maybe you’ll be inspired. 

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