Day 26: Female-Helmed Horror Movies For October
Directed and Co-Story by Elise Robertson
1 hour, 30 minutes
I watched it on Amazon Prime.
(Shout out to the fabulous Catherine Cobb for both suggesting it and being the Script Supervisor on the film! She’s been the Script Supervisor on several of my movies and she does an awesome job.)
Hey, I didn’t mind it. I even had fun. Is it all-that inventive? Does it have captivating visuals? Is it super scary? Nope, nope and nope. But it did have surprisingly good performances, a couple of good surprises, and a general pulpy fun to the proceedings.
A pack of teenagers go up to new kid Thomas’ (Erik Stocklin) family mountain cabin for the weekend. His parents don’t know they’re going. Once they get there, they find Nicole (Adelaide Kane) has invited her boyfriend and even more friends to join them, even though Thomas had made it clear that he only wanted a small group to come, since he’s keeping this visit a secret and all. There’s a tremendous amount of tension among the group, and you’re never sure whether one of them is going to turn violent or if it’s all just macho posturing. Thomas and Kayley have the most believable connection in the movie, being the only reasonable ones there, and they have solid chemistry as new friends. Kayley is disappointed in her boyfriend’s jockish/standoffish behavior and helps push a running theme of choosing how you want to treat other people. It’s a lovely little inclusion in what is largely a toss away horror flick and that kind of thing is part of what kept it fun and engaging.
Oh and the movie opens with the Donner Party, hence the title. The movie posits that the Donner of said Party was actually a cannibal who brought the group up to the mountains to eat them like an insane zombie. Like this guy can rip people up like a wild cat. It’s pretty cool. So when terrible things start happening at the mountain cabin in modern times, one of the characters declares with great close-up-shot fear, “It’s him. I know it.” “Who?” “Donner.” I cheered – such pulpy goodness.
Unfortunately, Robertson doesn’t have any particular visual flair. It’s getting She doesn’t take enough advantage of her gorgeous Sierra Nevadas setting; that should have allowed her much more. Who doesn’t love a horror movie in the snow? All that blood in the snowy white? And why don’t we see any awesome white sweaters on the cast? A wasted opportunity! Okay, I’ll get off my weirdo tangent. But it should have been entirely messier outside. Robertson makes an awesome cameo as a dead woman in the very first moment of the film. She has a slew of acting credits, has directed theater and TV (even a children’s show with puppets), and wrote a mid-reader fantasy book for her two daughters. She sounds like a real doer but not particularly horror-focused. It shows. The moments that should be more horrifying are played out more as straight drama. There are a few scenes where this does turn out to be a surprising, creepy choice, like the character is resigned to his evil, rather than getting off on it.
There are a few ideas that don’t quite gel with the whole piece. With four credited writers on a little slasher like this, I’m not surprised. They try to get into a subplot about a rape. But ultimately, it falls flat because it’s too breezed by. For a while, I thought that subplot was about one of the characters being closeted, so that tells you a bit about some clarity issues. There’s a lot of talk about their high school being a intimidating place where social strategy is key, and that pays off somewhat but not as richly as I had hoped. It’s a disappointing movie, in that it does swing higher than you’d expect and mostly misses, but I certainly don’t want to fault Robertson and her team for trying to do more than pass the time between slaughters. I’d say it’s a bit of harmless fun.