Monday, March 10, 2014

Cassadaga (2011)

Along with You're Next, Cassadaga is another 2011 flick just releasing on DVD (at least via Netflix, which is admittedly the last to get things) here in 2014. When this happens, I can't help but feel like it skews the candidates for my end-of-year top 10 releases. But unless the rest of the year's releases completely bomb, that's not going to be a problem with Cassadaga's candidacy--and I still need to rewatch and (more importantly) finish You're Next before I can make an assessment. It's not that Cassadaga is bad (I'm not adding the "dud" tag)--it's actually a decent effort--;it's just not striking in any way. Other than horror newcomer (Children of the Corn: Genesis is the only other credit) Kelen Coleman, that is. (Be sure to check out some of her funny and playful humor videos on YouTube!)

I've already let the cat out of the bag that I didn't care for this movie. Production value was high--great photography, sound engineering, set design, acting, original score, composition, and so on. The biggest problem I had with Cassadaga is its boringly formulaic execution of these worn out supernatural thriller plots. Granted, there was a slight crime-drama angle, and they did attempt to sketch out a new villain with a catchy/creepy name: Geppetto. But I couldn't help but feel as though I'd seen this same movie hundreds of times, down to the seemingly mandatory trope of squirming maggots and the lead character unlocking the biggest clue by looking at a pile of disheveled images (contrast: this also happened in Prisoners, which I recently watched and highly, highly recommend)! The only saving grace, as in Alexadra Daddario in Texas Chainsaw, was fresh-faced, charming Kelen Coleman. Unfortunately, I have to weigh the movie as a holistic production, and not just by its lead roles.

See if this sounds familiar: Something bad happened to someone years ago. Jump forward to present day, where we have an innocent character to whom something tragic happens. Said tragedy sends the character reeling and finally moving away to regain a sense of self. What was supposed to be a fortifying getaway destination actually happens to be the location of that bad thing that happened years ago. For the next bit of runtime we get bumps in the night, attempts at jump scares, musical stings--boo, ah, yikes! Enter the character who will come to the aid of the lead. Next, you must turn to a super-creepy spiritualist. You try to channel a friendly spirit and, lo, a malevolent spirit manifests itself. Now there's the segment of time wherein the character battles being perceived as crazy versus the reality of being haunted. The spirit abuses the lead character in different ways, but, of course, the spirit turns out to be innocuous enough--it just wants justice via its host. Big reveal of the identity of the killer (not so hard to guess, as the opening scene made it pretty obvious; and the only red herring is quickly ruled out). The end.

So, yeah, pretty conventional plot; and I know that there are conventions for a reason: they are what help constitute and perpetuate a subgenre. There are plenty of movies out there that attempt to dispense with genre-enforced guidelines (John Dies at the End, for example)--and I will give the filmmakers of Cassadaga the attempt at possibly adding a new villain to the genre--but, overall, I just couldn't care about what was happening because I was already 3 steps ahead. One inventive touch I will also give the film was the scene in which Coleman is stuck in the back of a police car. The killer jumps on top of the car, shoots a hole in the roof, pours in a bunch of ethyl, and uses his hand to stop up the hole, causing the fumes to incapacitate poor Kelen. Perhaps a further testament to how little amusements there are, but I love creative little touches like that.

Cassadaga most likely will not win over any long-time horror fans. Teens and curious newcomers to horror may find it amusing, treating it the way in which Jonathan Franzen describes today's popular music downloads: as inexpensive chiclets that are popped in and quickly lose their flavor (I can't remember the essay in which he draws this analogy; maybe "Why Bother?"). In defense of a complete waste of time, however, I will say that, at its core is the message that parents/caretakers get one shot at properly raising, encouraging, and influencing their children. The things we as parents do and say immediately changes the encoding of our children's psyche. It also praises the importance of art, which I'm always ready to stand behind (one of my favourite recent books is Alain de Botton's Art as Therapy). If you've watched this movies, consider yourself warned. Don't turn your son or daughter into a future Geppetto!

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