Home For the Hell-i-days: Derelicts (2017)-Reviewed

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is such a classic that it’s moved beyond that designation and into the kind of film that will inspire filmmakers until the end of time. For some, Rob Zombie has cashed in on an entire career by aping the film. It’s such a startling premise with a smorgasbord of iconic imagery that it makes sense that filmmakers continue to draw from that well. Derelicts, from director Brett Glassberg, is the genre’s latest TCM pastiche, this time flipping the “guests” coming to dinner and the family hosting it, so to speak. 

Taking place during Thanksgiving, Derelicts opens with a brutal double murder as a father and son, on their way to a family get together for the holiday, stop to give a homeless man some money. Unfortunately for them, the man is the bait and after killing the two, he and his roving “family” of misfits commandeer their car and follow the GPS to their destination. From there, we’re witnesses to the Thanksgiving from hell and the question of who the “monsters” actually are is frequently cast in stark doubt. 

By reversing the roles of the hosts and attendees, Glassberg has a lot of fun playing with the degradation of humanity. Instead of trapping a group of unlucky, lost tourists in a house of horrors, he brings the horrors to a seemingly “normal” household instead. It’s an interesting spin on this kind of story but unfortunately, Glassberg fumbles all of it almost immediately. 

When we meet the family, it’s as they’re waking up to the sounds of someone in the house having extremely loud sex. When it’s revealed to be the grandfather and his girlfriend, you’re obviously meant to laugh but this instead plants the seeds that this is an unhappy (at least everyone having to hear it certainly is) and deeply uncomfortable family to begin with. This is compounded by a brother and sister who hate each other and a husband and wife who clearly share no love anymore. 

There was an opportunity here to depict this family as relatively normal and loving. By forgoing that and instantly presenting them as unlivable, you’re subjected to an unpleasant hour and change of people you don’t care about being tortured. The thrill of watching them slowly degrade as the monsters who invade their home break them down is never really present. There’s no tension here. 


That empathy for the victims doesn’t exist because this is a hateful film down to its core. From rape to cliches of the virginal, overweight nerd, to a “cold” wife, almost everything that happens to this family feels like it’s being justified by the film. There’s never a real attempt to sow empathy. This is a deeply disgusting film full of disgusting people doing disgusting things. The intention, again, is clear. Glassberg is trying to show that domesticity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and the murderers that intrude on this Thanksgiving are just speeding up the inevitable collapse of a dysfunctional family. But that doesn’t come through when you present the victims as awful from the outset.

You’re left with a Thanksgiving dinner of blood, guts, gore and misery. And here’s the thing, that can all be enough for a quick jaunt of a horror film.  Sometimes you don’t need empathy or reason.  Sometimes bad things happen and we, unfortunately, have to watch. That can all be enough when what you’re watching is entertaining. Derelicts can’t even manage that. The family of murderers feel like retreads of retreads, not a single one stands out. Every single of them is played so unbelievably loud that they’re never really frightening, just unbearably irritating. The gore is never over-the-top enough in ways that the rest of the film tries to be. It’s a hollow slog that never makes use of its many strong ingredients. 

Derelicts clearly thinks it’s a subversive and ghastly grindhouse flick with some social commentary on its mind. Instead, it’s a flailing and juvenile bore with one or two decent sight gags. This is the kind of film that you should be able to laugh at and recoil from at once. The fact that it can’t even manage that is a shame. 

-Brandon Streussnig