Judge Gordon Sullivan just canceled that seance.
There's a new puppet master…
The Florida I know (as a native) is a beautiful place full of orange groves and sunsets and quiet. There's no beach, no retirees, no people who can't work a voting machine. Generally, that part of Florida isn't too hard to avoid—just stay away from the bigger cities and the coast and you'll be okay. Then, though, you have to confront some of the weirder, less publicized aspects of the Sunshine state. One of the most interesting is the small community of Cassadaga. Sometime in 1875, a Spiritualist arrived in the area and set up a "Spiritualist Camp" that became a beacon for mediums, psychics, and those living by Spiritualist principles. It is purportedly the largest gathering of such folk in the world. Though not as famous as Disney World or South Beach, Cassadaga has its own charm. Perhaps surprisingly, Cassadaga is the first horror film to take the town as its setting. Sadly, Cassadaga is not an auspicious way to start off the community's portrayal on film.
Our protagonist is Lily (Kelen Coleman, The Newsroom), a woman who is trying to recover from the death of her sister, who was run over outside of school. Lily moves to Cassadaga to get away from it all, but instead of finding benevolent spirits to guide her to peace, she contacts the ghost of a murdered girl. This brings her to the attention of "Geppetto," a serial killer who makes women into living puppets.
A friend of mine recently complained about the increasing length of Hollywood movies, which are finding themselves more and more over the two-hour mark. It's not that he hates long movies, but that 80 minutes is a good time to shoot for, and the 80-minute feature is becoming a lost art for a lot of people. I bring this up because Cassadaga is pushing the two-hour mark pretty hard, and the vast majority of horror features can't support that weight.
The main problem with Cassadaga is one of confusion. I don't know if it's two hours because it has too much to say or do, or if having too much to say or do pushed it to almost two hours. In either case, what could have been a streamlined little story about trauma and coping becomes a mess of psychological thriller, horror, and mystery tropes all mangled into a single film that doesn't pay off all the threads it asks you to follow.
First, we open with a scene where a young boy mutilates himself because his mother chastises him. Then we get a woman and her sister talking in hallway, after which the little sister goes outside only to be run over by a car. The older sister goes to Cassadaga, where she communes with a dead girl, bringing us into horror territory. Then that introduces a serial killer. So we've got the mystery elements of who killed the young woman, the horror elements of a ghost story, and a serial killer on the loose as well, with some psychological fluff to explain him (extra points if you guessed that the boy mutilating himself in the beginning was related to the serial killing). It's a mess or stuff that never comes together in a satisfying way; it might have made an excellent episode of Criminal Minds, but with almost two hours' worth of running time, there's too much fat on the carcass.
It's especially disappointing because the film opens with one of the creepier scenes I've ever witnessed in a low-budget horror film. In a lonely attic space, a young boy wears a dress and plays with dolls. His mother enters the room and flips out on him, tell him it's not right to play that way because he's a boy and not a girl. We follow the mother out of the room, and when she returns, her son is standing there in a girl's dress, holding a pair of scissors, with a bloody red mess on his crotch. It's gross, and creepy, and excessive in a way that builds tension the rest of the film just cannot match.
The DVD, at least, is okay. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and detailed, looking like a pretty standard low-budget feature. Colors are appropriately saturated, and black levels are deep and consistent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track keeps dialogue audible and offers a few shivers of excitement in some of the more tense scenes with good directionality. The disc's lone extra is a trailer.
Cassadaga is inoffensive fare for genre fans. It's competently executed, but it doesn't really give anything back for the 102-minute investment it asks for. Fans of ghost stories, spiritualism, and serial killer flicks might want to give this one a rental, but everyone else can skip it.
Guilty of trying to do too much.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Archstone Distribution
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