Made two years ago but releasing in my area today:
CASSADAGA (Dir. Anthony DiBlasi, 2011)
In the first two minutes of Anthony DiBlasi’s CASSADAGA, involving a mother reacting violently to catching her preteen son wearing girl’s clothing, you can tell exactly what kind of movie this is - a dark piece of horror porn with a micro-budget.
That’s not such a bad thing, especially this time of year with Halloween coming up, but genre fans looking for a cheap thrills gore-fest will likely be bored by this offering.
Kelen Coleman (The Newsroom, The Mindy Project) plays a deaf art teacher whose young sister (Sarah Sculco) is killed when hit by a car in the parking lot of their school. Coleman relocates to the spiritualist community of Cassadaga University, called “The Psychic Capital of America” on its welcome sign. We’re never told what state the film is set in, but it was shot in Orlando, Florida if that means anything.
Coleman is shown around the grounds and to her new living quarters by Louise Fletcher as Cassadaga’s head mistress, who tells her not to mind her grandson Thomas (a barely seen Lucas Beck), who keeps to himself on the upper floor. That last bit of info wouldn’t make anyone nervous, right?
Coleman begins dating a suave Emergency Medical Technician (Kevin Alejandro of True Blood), the father of one of her students, and on their first date they decide to go to a séance conducted by a medium played by Avis-Marie Barnes. Despite her deafness, Coleman hears her sister’s voice in her mind, but another spirit, that of a murdered girl gone missing in the area four years ago, gets in the way.
From then on Coleman is tormented, by way of jolting gruesome in-your-face imagery and gross incidents involving maggots, and any viewer can put together the pieces faster than the characters that this is the spirit’s way of giving clues to her killer’s identity.
Meanwhile we catch glimpses of another woman (Christina Bach) being abducted and having her limbs dismembered then reattached to form what could certainly be considered a macabre marionette.
None of this is as frightening as it sounds as the pace is as slow as Coleman is trying to craw away from an attacker in a bloody butcher’s apron in one of the extremely anti-climatic final scenes.
First time screenwriters Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley have obviously put a lot of thought into the plot mechanics here with the unraveling of the mystery, but the film can’t seem to decide whether to be a tense melodrama or a slasher thriller, and it ends up being neither successfully.
And why cast Louise Fletcher, who won the Oscar for her iconic performance as Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” almost four decades ago, and is no newbie to the world of horror (see: THE EXORCIST II, FIRESTARTER, and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC for starters), if you’re not going to do anything with her? A scene in which Fletcher smokes pot with Coleman during one of the film’s many downtimes is about as unnecessary as you can get.
Coleman is a very attractive presence, and it’s nice to see her get a chance to show that she has more range than allowed in her supporting roles on television, but the material forces her to embarrassingly overact at times, and I’m really not sure how the film benefitted at all by making her character deaf. Add that to the list of unnecessary elements on display here.
Still, there’s some promise in the writing. If Wood and Poiley can tighten up their narrative to alleviate the tedium in future projects, they may be able to create something much scarier than this cliché ridden slog.