Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet
Written and directed by Joshua Shreve
Lost Empire Entertainment; JJ Films; Flashback Pictures; MVD Visual
75 minutes, 2017
Hey, after all, what is more realistic than reality, am I right?
Within the first 10 minutes, if you’re truly a genre fan, you know where the story is going, how it’s going to get there, and where it’s going to end, thanks to a helpful prologue. Of course, the question is, what’s a-gonna happen between those bookends, once they get there. That is the meat off the matter.
The “they” is two couples (usually it’s three to add the body count, but the filmmakers managed to figure out how to work their way around that very nicely). Among the first couple is Lyndsey (Morgan Wiggins), the sensible one who does not want to venture out of the way, though she initially comes across as kinda standoffish. Her boyfriend is Sean (Ryan Rudolph), who is leaning towards unlikeable due to the way he ignores Lyndsey. The other couple is the hot Ryder (Ryan Rudolph, aka Roller Derby Queen Black and Blue Jay), who is out for some fun (understandable), and her love interest is Lance, the macho moron of the bunch (his backwards, sparkling white baseball cap is surely an indicator). He is a hyper, macho, privileged white male and has no problem expressing it; in other words he’s the one you are really hoping will die.
The fetching foursome – college students is my guess though the they are referred to as “teenagers” in the description – are on a trip from Nashville to a place in Kentucky called Goreville (wait…what?) and get sidetracked after seeing a sign at a gas station run by a very loud speaking good ol’ boy (Evan Miller). Now, in these situations, pay attention to the guy you meet at the gas station before the whatever happens, as you can usually tell by the age whether he’s a “good” or “bad” guy: the old crazy coots are those who warn the travelers (“You kids better not go there!”), the younger kooks are more the ones who direct the action (“I know a great place for y’all to check out!”).
Where our protagonists are led to a “haunted house” themed place called, of course, Talon Park. Once they get there, it’s at an actual crowded theme park, but they have been singled out by… well, I won’t say who though it’s a given in the storyline. They are ushered through the line and separated from the herd by sliding doors and walls. As they roam around (and of course get separated), they all slowly come to find out that not everything is what it seems, and that they are in for the Hostel experience.
I’ll stop there story-wise, as this is merely the set up that is obvious. It’s at this point things break out into its own until the end, and I don’t want to give it away. Amid all the clichés that bookend the main thrust which starts, yes, at about 20 minutes in, to take on its own and twisted path. In other words, it begins to get really interesting. Unlike other films that tend to start at 20 minutes, there’s enough to keep you watching from the beginning, even though flush with clichés, but don’t be lulled into the belief there’s nothing original here.
This story is, if I may pontificate for a moment, a good glimpse into American culture, where the women are instinctively aware that there is something wrong in a bigly way, and the dudes just will – not – listen because they are so sure they are right. I find this to be true a lot. If your girlfriend is saying don’t go there, my friend, you should not go there. Not just in the pictures, but in life. Get off your frickin’ macho horse and listen, even if you don’t agree with it right off. I find, in my life, when my partner says something, I think through it rather than just being dismissive. Trust her spidey-sense; it could save your life, especially in a genre flick! But I digress…
If you’ve ever been to a “haunted house” (no, I have not and have no interest; my love of horror exists in the screen, not in a live dimension), from what I understand, the best ones are those that are pretty realistic. That is what this film is playing on. Of course, it helps that it was filmed at the real Talon Falls Screampark in Melber, KY. It was a smart idea to play with the how realistic do you really want it? notion, so that those observing what is actually happening assume it is part of the oeuvre of the place.
As the story unfolds, it gets more intense, more realistic, more snuff-like, and pretty damn close to touching the hem of torture porn. But what takes it beyond into the Meta is having ticketholders watching what is happening to our poor travelers through glass windows, now subjects of the grand experiment. My guess is that this was filmed in the rooms actually used for the screampark, but what I ponder is whether the people who are observing through the windows really watching them make the movie are extras who are placed there by the filmmakers, or paying screampark customers. What I mean is, are the audiences watching aware of what is really happening to the trapped, thinking it’s part of the park’s action? Other than the protagonists early on, you see the patron window viewers only through said window, from where those in peril can see them. Quite the Catch-22, and I applaud the filmmakers for that. Honestly, I don’t need to know definitively, but that question got my attention.
I’m not quite positive when this is actually supposed to take place on the calendar, as. cell phones are minimal, VHS tapes are prevalent, and all the cathode monitors are black-and-white rather than High-Def. We see that the VHSs are dated along the first decade of the 21 Century, the latest being 2010, but wasn’t DVDs big by then (they were introduced in the US in 1997), or is it that the technology just hadn’t caught up to that part of the Blue Grass State yet? Y’know, in the scheme of things, that’s not an important detail.
Torture scenes are wisely broken up with other parts of the concurrent story, which is also at high tension, so we don’t overdose or numb out on the pain a character is feeling as a constant stream (or scream). Going against logic, by cutting away from one action and flipping back and forth to another, the story manages to keep both streams taut rather than dissipating it; it’s good writing.
The gore is extremely well done and there’s plenty of it, and is not for the squeamish (though odds are if you’re reading this, you’re probably beyond that). Also, considering that many in the film have only this for their IMDB credits, there is a load of decent acting here, and I’m looking forward to seeing the cast in more.
For me, the biggest flaws (and nearly every film has at least one) are as follows: first, the film is too damn dark. It looks like there is some kind of filter on the lens, sometimes with a dark blue hue (day-for-night, perhaps?), that occasionally interferes with the action (but none of the more gory bits) – not enough to totally obscure, but you may want to watch this in a darker room to make a better contrast for the screen. The only other thing is that while the masked villain (Tim McCain) is great at being threatening, considering some of the injuries he acquires it does not seem reasonable for him to be at 100%, no matter what his size.
Other than the trailer, the only extra is a fun 10-minute Behind the Scenes featurette. It has no narrative theme, just a jumble of bloopers, some brief in-process interviews (such as while make-up being applied), and showing that the cast and crew got along real well. It’s an enjoyable piece of fluff that doesn’t really push the film any, but I still recommend the viewing because it gives some personality to actors behind the characters.
To sum it all up: as I said, you know how the ride starts on a nice and even track, and it’s pretty darn easy to predict how it’s going to end, but the hour in the middle is definitely a super-express terror ride that’s worth the time and the price of admission.
As for the real Talon Falls Screampark? Nah, won’t see ya there, but if you like haunted house amusements, it does look like it’s a non-stop adventure.