Tag Archives: C-

THE CURSE OF BUCKOUT ROAD

Producer: John Gillespie
Director: Matthew Currie Holmes
Writer: Shahin Chandrasoma and Matthew Currie Holmes
Stars: Evan Ross, Henry Czerny, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Danny Glover, Colm Feore, Mako Nguyen, Jim Watson, Kyle Mac, Patrick Garrow, John Ralston, David Hayter and Michelle Mylett
Studio: Vertical Entertainment

C-

The title of Matthew Currie Holmes’s horror flick refers to an actual stretch of road in Westchester County, New York, running between White Plains and Harrison, around which scary legends have accumulated over the years. Holmes has taken several of these and incorporated them into a story that has a strong whiff of Elm Street about it. In the end the result doesn’t pack much of a punch.

The connective narrative is about a group of youngsters who get caught up in past horrors by way of a school project assigned by a teacher (Mayko Nguyen) who soon suffers an unpleasant fate herself. Chief among the crew is Cleo Harris (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), a troubled girl still grieving the loss of her mother, but two goofy guys, Derek and Erik Ganzer (Jim Watson and Kyle Mac) are also caught up in the mayhem.

Added to their number is Aaron Powell (Evan Ross), a just-discharged cadet recently returned to town and the home of his grandfather Lawrence (Danny Glover), who raised him after his parents died in an accident. Lawrence is also a psychiatrist, and has been treating Cleo at the request of her father Roy (Henry Czerny), a detective on the local police force. Aaron meets her when she comes to Lawrence’s house for a counseling session, and the two become friends.

The problem is that Cleo, Aaron, Derek and Erik begin having nightmares in which they’re drawn into the urban legends centered around Buckout Road. One of these involves a ghostly lady in white who hanged herself there. Another relates to three colonial women who were burned as witches. A third is about a man who murdered his wife and a neighbor whom he took to be her lover. There’s also a thread about albino cannibals, the descendants of slaves who were supposedly held captive in the area by a racist owner.

Holmes shows some real ingenuity by filming the nightmare episodes, in which the present-day youngsters are dragged into the legendary past, in different styles reflective of the times in which they’re set. The results are admittedly less impressive than they would have been had he been favored with a larger budget, but you still have to admire the attempt.

Less successful, unfortunately, is the effort to tie everything together at the close, which involves Lawrence, Roy, and another town elder, a cleric played by Colm Feore. Up to that point “The Curse of Buckout Road” has been rather diffuse and structurally ragged, but in trying to confect a satisfactory windup Holmes and his co-writers have come up with a frankly banal explanation, verbosely delivered.

Still, the film is more imaginative than many other horror movies about youngsters who find themselves endangered by supernatural forces, and in Czerny, Glover and Fiore it boasts some veterans who can make even the most absurd material seem better than it is. Ross and Provost-Chalkley, unhappily, offer rather flat turns, and while Watson and Mac add some dim-bulb humor to the mix, they can’t make up for the lack of fizz in the main couple’s relationship. The technical aspects of the picture are adequate, with Rudolf Blahacek’s cinematography exhibiting some verve in the dream sequences.

There seems to be a thriving cottage industry in the Westchester area about Buckout Road—books and websites have rehearsed and promoted the legends for years. Holmes’s movie now joins them, but it’s unlikely to make any more of a splash than they have—it’s just another kids-in-peril horror flick that has flashes of inspiration but isn’t distinctive enough to stand out from the pack.

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG

Producer: Jonathan Wang, Daniel Scheinert and Melodie Sisk
Director: Daniel Scheinert
Writer: Billy Chew
Stars: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler, Poppy Cunningham, Roy Wood Jr., Sunita Mani, Janelle Cochrane and Daniel Scheinert
Studio: A24 Films

C-

The wild audacity of “Swiss Army Man,” the Paul Dano-Daniel Radcliffe oddity that Daniel Scheinert made in collaboration with Daniel Kwan three years ago, is not equaled by this solo directorial effort, a redneck tragicomedy written by Billy Chew that apparently wants to transport a “Fargo” vibe from the upper Midwest of Minnesota and North Dakota to the Alabama backwoods. Unlike the film that serves as its inspiration, however, this one is condescending to its characters, turning them into the butt of its jokes, so to speak—objects of ridicule and, in the end, distaste.

The plot focuses on Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbot, Jr.) and Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), two yokel pals who have a wild night with a third stooge, Dick Long (Scheinert), making loud noises rehearsing as a garage band they call Pink Freud. After setting aside their instruments they turn to dope and alcohol and apparently slip into full blotto mode, since when Zeke and Earl wake up they find Dick inanimate and decidedly bloodied up. They recall nothing of what happened.

Terrified of the thought of having to explain their lost night, the two make the mistake of dumping Dick off in the parking lot of the local hospital, where the doctor (Roy Wood Jr.) will pronounce him dead and call in the police—elderly Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane), who hobbles about with a cane, and enthusiastic Deputy Dudley (Sarah Baker), who’s anxious to please. Since among their bad choices Zeke and Earl decided to relieve Dick of his identification before dropping him off, he’s officially a John Doe, and it will be some time before his wife Jane (Jess Weixler) learns of her hubby’s fate, wondering whether he’s off with another woman.

Most of the action from this point centers on Zeke, who finds that his car is all bloody from transporting Dick and begins making up lies to his wife Lydia (Virginia Newcomb) to cover things up; when he tells her it’s been stolen, she reports the theft to the cops, who will come to investigate. Naturally he and Earl will eventually have to get rid of the vehicle, disposing of it in a lake where it initially refuses to sink (a reference, no doubt, to the famous scene in “Psycho”). He also has to prevent his darling little daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham), who’s heard a few too many of his conversations with Earl, from inadvertently spilling the beans.

Meanwhile Earl is preparing to leave town, taking along his girlfriend Lake (Sunita Mani), who sees him frantically packing stuff into his car because of what he enigmatically refers to as an emergency. By the time he’s ready to depart his motel room, though, the truth will have come out, largely as the result of the lies that pile up as Zeke twists himself into knots in ever more frantic attempts to keep what happened a secret.

The ultimate revelation of what actually occurred is meant, one supposes, to be both shocking and grimly hilarious: it certainly has a disastrous effect on Zeke’s family life. That’s all part of a final act that turns what had been a goofily demented comedy of errors into something much more serious, combining almost sappy elements with what’s presumably intended as a skewered commentary on the reality of hayseed masculinity. The payoff, quite frankly, doesn’t jell at all with the juvenile rambunctiousness of what’s preceded, and a throwaway final twist makes everything inconsequential anyway.

The actors, it should be noted, throw themselves into the material with gusto. Abbott and Newcomb bear the heaviest load, with Hyland taking a more laid-back approach as the nonchalant Earl, for whom stupidity seems a default setting; but Cochrane and Baker have good rapport as the cops, who—while nearly as characterful as Marge Gunderson—are far from the dim bulbs one might expect. The technical crew—production designer Ali Rubinfield, costumer Rachel Stringfellow and cinematographer Ashley Connor—succeed in giving the visuals a suitably grubby look.

One can discern what Chew and Scheinert were aiming for with “The Death of Dick Long”—a raucous comedy that provokes gasps and laughs by piling loopy mistake on loopy mistake before abruptly offering a shocking revelation with more serious ramifications. But the first part of the picture isn’t as funny as it should be, and the major turn causes it to crumble completely. After “Swiss Army Man,” it’s a real disappointment.