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.