Judge Gordon Sullivan has pretensions. He also has tensions during and after.
Abandoned for 30 years…Once it has you there is no way out!
One of my favorite quotes from writer Warren Ellis…"I'm a big fan of pretension. It means an aspiration or intention that may or may not reach fulfillment. It doesn't mean failing upward. It means trying to exceed your grasp, which is how things grow." I tend to agree with him, especially when it comes to independent film. As long as the pretention—the grasping—is backed up with the evidence of the filmmakers having worked, I'm okay with pretention. It's when filmmakers are lazy and pretentious that things get troublesome. Luckily, Closed for the Season backs up its pretentions with a whole lot of work. Though it's far from a successful picture, it's a much more interesting "failure" for having tried to reach beyond what most independent horror films can grasp.
The Chippewa Lake Amusement Park is a creepy place, so when young Kristy forgets a toy bear in the park on the last day, she's not very happy to return the next day to retrieve it. Despite the gatekeeper's protests that he can't let her in, Kristy sneaks away to find her bear. Apparently the gatekeeper wasn't kidding, and Kristy finds not her bear, but a park that's haunted, one that traps her in its grasp.
Remember The Blair Witch Project? One of the creepiest parts of that film was the crude wooden statues that our heroes kept finding. They were creepy because they looked simultaneously totally significant while being completely inscrutable. They were primitive, and suggested something about the human form, or perhaps a crucifixion. Similarly, there's something about the way that Closed for the Season is shot that's…unsettling. Like those little wooden figure there's something about the cinematography that's both primitive (this is a low-budget film after all) and highly suggestive. The angles are just off enough, the digital effects just crude enough to be creepy. I can't say for sure if the effect is intentional or not, but it really works in the film's favor. Rather than looking like every other low-budget horror, Closed for the Season kicks things up a notch, turning what would be liabilities—crude effects and captured on-the-fly shots—into serious positives by feeding the film's creepy atmosphere.
Sadly, even with this vibe, Closed for the Season is not a totally successful scarefest. Part of its pretensions is a running time of 114 minutes. That's a solid 20 minutes more than a horror film can usually run while still maintaining its edge. Even if you appreciate what the movie is trying to do, it feels a bit long, with a slightly slow buildup and some extra meat in the second and third acts that could use a trim. The whole idea of flashbacks sounds like a good idea, but ultimately doesn't pan out. There are those, of course, who will also quail at the film's low-budget feel. The acting is not always Hollywood quality, and the dialogue often leaves a bit to be desired. Finally, the film is not a horror film per se, though it's definitely aiming for that market. This is much more a psychological drama with a dreamlike carnival background that's supposed to be unsettling rather than horrific. Those looking for another slasher retread in a carnival will be disappointed.
On DVD, Closed for the Season gets more than the average film of this caliber. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks great for a film of this budget. It's appropriately bright during daylight scenes, and the blacks look good during the nighttime shots. There's a bit of a digital sheen over much of the image that might turn celluloid fans off, but for this kind of film we can't expect more. The film also gets a 5.1 surround track that keeps the dialogue clear. There's not much in the way of atmospherics, but the surrounds show up here and there. The extras are pretty extensive. First up is a commentary by director Jay Woelfel that's informative (though two hours of commentary on this film is a bit much). We also get some deleted scenes with optional commentary, and some webisodes. Most interesting, perhaps, are a pair of "tours" of Chippewa lake. We also get the film's trailer.
Closed for the Season has some genuinely unsettling atmosphere, but that can't quite overcome a film that's overlong despite its undercooked story. It might be worth a rental for those with fond memories of amusement parks, but otherwise this one can be skipped without missing much.
Guilty of staying open too long.
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