“The following presentation is derived from footage captured by the catastrophic reality TV pilot Extremely Haunted Hoarders,” reads text at the beginning of The Hoard, over a rapid – indeed, so rapid as to be near inscrutable – montage of monstrosity, mayhem and murder. It is not just a precise prelude of what is to come, but a clear alignment of the film to the subgenre of ‘found footage’. The rest of the film, with its endless canting and cutting to sensationalise and ‘sex up’ otherwise banal footage, its post-eventum to-camera ‘confessional’ interviews, its pounding soft rock soundtrack, its cutaways to the presenters in ‘cool’ poses, and its histrionic overdramatisation of everything – is a hilariously close-to-the-bone parody of a certain, instantly recognisable kind of reality TV show, as a disparate team of tightly wound-up house flippers (Marcus Ludlow, Justin Darmanin) and psychic ‘ghost humpers’ (Ry Barrett, Elma Begovic) moves in to declutter – and exorcise – a hoarder’s multiple condemned homes.
“Yeah, I think all this reality TV is just a bunch of bullshit,” comments the show’s arch hoarder Murph Evans. “It’s just all staged and made up just to entertain the idle people with idle minds.” It is true that old Murph (played by genuine collector Barry More, credited as playing himself) represents a rare breed of straight-talking genuineness, surrounded as he is by a crew of would-be tele-experts who are largely blowhards and charlatans, apart from sweetly sincere show runner Sheila Smyth (Lisa Solberg) and local layabout/dayworker Charles Ivey (again, playing himself). Inauthenticity is key here. The setting may be Rockford, Ohio, but the film was shot in Rockford and Owen Sound, Ontario, and would-be Buckeye characters are played by actors with discernible Canadian accents (apart from Solberg, who is Australian).
This is all part of the illusory fabric of both the film itself, and of the reality programmes that it lampoons. For as the team clears away the layers of detritus in Murph’s properties, they are also revealing more and more truths about their own craven posturing and larcenous fakery – especially ‘hoarder expert’ Dr (though not a real doctor) Lance Ebe, played by co-writer Tony Burgess (author and screenwriter of Pontypool). Ebe is a total fraud – and yet one of the film’s great ironies is that his loopier theories about the condition afflicting both Murph’s properties and Rockford itself may all be absolutely true.
Like their previous Septic Man, Jesse Thomas Cook and Matt Wiele’s The Hoard uses plentiful scenes of rubbish piles and sewer spillage to literalise its trash status; and like their The Hexecutioners, it uses genre to trace humanity’s difficult accommodation of the disposable, the discarded and the dead. Yet mostly it is just very, very funny, with the screenplay from Burgess, Cook and Wiele finding just the right place between smart and dumb, and turning garbage into pure gold.
The Hoard was seen and reviewed at FrightFest Glasgow 2019.