UK Release Date – TBC
Weird people in weird towns – it’s a genre staple that crops up pretty frequently in low budget features. And why not? After all, you can do plenty of interesting things and fill the whole movie with oddball character actors without anyone feeling out of place. It’s also one of those ideas that is usually quite eerie since it’s so easy to imagine what strange things are going on behind closed doors in secluded rural areas. Law and order, as well as a sense of community can be twisted into something far more unfriendly. However it still requires some imagination and a little craft to create that perfect sense of imbalance, while at the same time telling an effective story. In this case, the footage of big empty holes at a construction site in the opening is symbolic of things to come.
John (Marc Slanger) is a big shot manager for a construction business in the Big Apple. However his goals of building a family while achieving a new promotion are shattered when his new wife Samantha (Jordan Lewis) loses their baby. With his own personal problems already causing stress for the couple, they move out of the city when a chance to oversee the development (or is it devolopment?) of a Casino out in the sticks comes along. After a lot of awkward legal talk and plenty of recycled building site footage, they head out to a small town called Frostburg to get a fresh start. It’s not long before something odd going on begins to become apparent.
It’s small things like weird local townsfolk knowing their names, and the general store having some sort of creepy altar left unattended for anyone to see. Samantha’s observation that this is ‘kind of Satanic like’ is both a clear sign of things to come in the story, as well as an indication of the acting and writing quality you can expect. However as a basic cult based thriller, the discovery of a plastic doll hanging in their basement and the hilarious reveal of pentagram graffiti in the house are about as scary as things ever get.
This isn’t exactly a film with high production values, but I’m always open to fledgling film makers trying their best to tell a story. In this case unfortunately the effort leaves a lot to be desired. Torches are used in clearly lit rooms, hand held cameras shake all over the place, things are overly bright and contrasted, and the colour temperature often fluctuates wildly between scenes. The music is just as inconsistent, often switching from electronic tunes and dour melodies to random noise. The editing choices that accompany all this are also pretty wobbly with a lot of distracting cuts and random sound effects in an attempt to make things dramatic. It generally fails to create a sense of dread or any sort of real atmosphere.
The location itself and the town inhabitants don’t help build a sense of unease either. The place feels way too big for a sinister hamlet in the middle of nowhere, and there are a lot of repeated aerial shots to give this impression of scale. The people themselves all hate John immediately, and are almost all hostile. Since he’s there to push people off their land by coercive methods it’s hard to sympathise with him either. However both sides are pretty unlikeable in terms of the performances. Some of the acting is particularly stilted, such as the therapist John visits (who appears to be the reading script) and the police officer he asks for help when his new home comes under threat. I don’t think they should be telling him that ‘it was bound to happen’ and ‘it’s going to get worse’. Some of these scenes do veer into amusing good-bad territory, but they’re all too brief.
Weird subplots about hypnosis treating PTSD, everyone in town knowing about John’s sex life, or the development drama when locals refuse compensation for their property all feel like filler rather than major thematic elements. It takes over an hour for anything about the occult to actually show up, and this is a fairly short film (though it feels much longer at times). A lot of the time John just wanders around drinking himself into a stupor. Random bar flies giving exposition about evil in the town feel tacked on so they can rush to a disconnected, messy final five minutes. For a story about construction projects and planning permission, I’m afraid they’ve built this one on a swamp.