Here’s a phrase for you: “found footage films.” You can’t be blamed for visualizing ghost-hunting chronicles filmed with smartphones or hapless young adults wandering through the woods of Maryland. While the main subject of the documentary A Life on the Farm can be classified as a found-footage movie, it is unlike any homegrown project you’ve ever seen.
In a not-incredibly-mushy manner, the film examines the life of Charles Carson. A farmer in a sparsely populated area of Somerset, England, Carson had a proclivity for documenting every small detail of the activities at his home, Coombe End Farm. He enjoys taking care of horses who, in turn, enjoy snatching Carson’s hat from his head. Here’s a pregnant cow. Here’s Carson’s tractor. Here’s his dead cat.
Yeah. His dead cat. Who does that?
Charles Carson, that’s who.
Carson’s story becomes weirder and darker from that point on, but A Life on the Farm is not a horror movie. It’s the story of a man, his cameras, and the natural order of things.
Interviews with Carson’s neighbors and VHS aficionados such as TV Carnage‘s Derrick Bickles are interspersed with clips from Carson’s extensive catalog of home videos and photographs. As we dive deeper into Carson’s family history, we are constantly faced with questions.
The surreal and sometimes off-putting visual juxtapositions in Carson’s work lead the viewer to wonder if he was a genius or a madman. Did Carson use the camera, much like Heather Donahue’s character in The Blair Witch Project, to place a barrier between himself and the harshness of reality? Was he just a lonely dude who found a sense of purpose by recording both the mundane and the sublime?
A Life on the Farm provides no clear answers, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves.
It’s true for almost every film, but one should go into A Life on the Farm as blind as possible. There are images in this movie that will make your jaw drop in utter disbelief. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t even read reviews.
[I should have said that sooner.]
There are no fancy computer-generated effects in A Life on the Farm, no sense of the epic that would compel some people to call the movie a “must-see.” That being said, you really must see A Life on the Farm. Inherent within Carson’s videos, as small, strange, and disturbing as they are, resides a sense of the grandeur and mystery of the entire world. It is a microcosm of existence with all of its miracles and inevitability. There’s also some super weird shit on display if you’re not into that whole cosmic thought process.
Bringing something deep and profound to an audience by showing the simplest and strangest of things with nothing but a skewed sense of humor and a camcorder? Who does that?
Charles Carson did. And you’ve got to see it to believe it.
A Life on the Farm premiered Sunday. September 25, at the 2022 Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX.