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This "Chilling, True Story" Needed Less Truth and More Chill
on May 22, 2013
A good friend and I have a running debate about the nature of horror films that centers around why so many scripts involve protagonists and/or victims of a high school age. My friend contends consistently that youth of that ripe, young age haven't quite been spoiled (or is that soiled?) by the cynicism of adulthood, and, as such, ghosts and spirits are drawn to them. Me? Well, I tend to think that youth of that ripe, young age are too stupid to know how to handle themselves when ghosts or spirits show up on the scene, and, as such, they make easy victims for both willing heavies, vengeful phantoms, and budding screenwriters.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
Due to some decidedly tragic events that never quite get a definitive explanation, Jordan (played by comely Alix Elizabeth Gitter whose given an "introducing" screen credit though this appears to be her tenth filmed production) comes to live with her aunt Anne (Tara Westwood) - her mother's twin - and uncle Kevin (Steve Bacic), a greasy sort whose behaviors harkens back to only the best closeted pedophiles. After finding a ring close to the nearby Silver Falls, Jordan finds herself suddenly troubled with visions of dead girls - twin sisters killed at the hands of their own father (or were they?). Faced with no alternative, Jordan desperately tries to convince anyone who'll listen that these restless spirits only hope to convey a message from beyond: the real murderer is still out there ... and now anyone who can see the twins is in danger!
For all its narrative stumbles (and there are plenty), A HAUNTING AT SILVER FALLS tries very hard to buck the trend of the traditional ghost-terrorizing-teens story by more strongly embracing the element of mystery. The only significant problem with this is that element doesn't really rear its head until an hour into a 90-minute story, leaving the first two-thirds to feel unnecessary formulaic about - you guessed it - the traditional ghost-terrorizing-teen tale. Without trying to rewrite the script post-production (mostly because I, too, hate critics who think they turn out a tighter plot), I think director Brett Donowho (don't know who?) may've been better served by having scribes Cam Cannon, Rachel Long, and Brian Pittman give their pages another pass with the single request of amping up the whodunit aspect much earlier.
Otherwise, HAUNTING ends up feeling too predictable. It's populated with just the right amount of troubled teens for the casual viewer to see through the usual narrative trickery (the first half plods along with a heavy `been there done that' attitude), but kudos to them all for giving it a decent try. Granted, there were hints that something more was afoot - the Sheriff's son seems to know the story of the twins' deaths isn't what most people think, but he's relegated so strongly into the background that he never comes off as more than Jordan's would-be stalker. Westwood and Bacic's performances as the doting, adoptive aunt and uncle feels like they have something to hide, and - lo and behold - before it's all over, they do! They do have something to hide! Those are the kinds of `gimmes' that could've been lessened with a meaner, leaner draft. Shot as it is, HAUNTING feels somewhat like they were making it up as they went, so maybe they were.
And that's a disservice to some respectable work by "newcomer" Gitter as well as James Cavlo's underused role as Larry, Jordan's kinda/sorta boyfriend. These two fresh faces did they best they could with their time and skills to deliver serviceable performances surrounding youths in trouble. If more attention had been paid to the script's `trouble,' then their work might not have felt so wasted. There's an ambiguity in their final screen moment that shouldn't be there; I'll take that as further evidence of scriptwriters struggling to define definitively what was actually going on here ... plus the obligatory and expectable big finish tells me they watched one too many horror flicks in their time and just sought to mimic the polish.
A HAUNTING AT SILVER FALLS is produced by Enderby Entertainment and Tony-Seven Films. DVD distribution is being handled by Inception Media Group, LLC. As for the technical specifications, the film is smartly produced with some very solid cinematography and some impressive sound editing. Alas, there are no special features to speak of - a shame in this day and age. Minimally, I would've liked to know just how much of this "inspired by a chilling, true story" was actually inspired by a chilling, true story, but methinks it wasn't meant to be.
RECOMMENDED. While not entirely predictable, A HAUNTING IN SILVER FALLS remains plagued by too many elements already explored by other vastly superior films. What's disappointing about that is it ends up wasting some solid work by its two young stars as well as leaves other more interesting narrative possibilities completely unexplored. In horror, not all is what it seems. In fact, rarely is `all' what it seems. Had HAUNTING dabbled more heavily in those parts of its script, it may've had a better chance at being discovered. This tale inspired by "a chilling, true story" needed less truth and more chill.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Inception Media Group, LLC provided me with an advance copy of A HAUNTING AT SILVER FALLS for the expressed purposes of completing this review.