“She was like a creature from under a bridge”
Despite being a complete rip-off of The Blair Witch Project, I do think Elma native B.J. Stack’s film *Cemetery has a solid thriller within, unfortunately the finished copy shown at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival is not quite it. A handheld docu-style movie, the story involves three kids—a brother BJ, his sister Katlin, and her boyfriend Brandon—out to find a hidden cemetery housing the supposed bodies of a local abortionist’s deceased patients and babies. Driving to the woods in Wales, NY this threesome of friends has a fantastic rapport, infusing the proceedings with some great humor. Riffing with each other, telling drunken tales of late-night shenanigans, and pretty heavily mocking the stupidity of Brandon, I really began to have a great time experiencing to their conversations and natural chemistry. The problem, though, is that the film is a horror, it needs high stakes and emotional turmoil, two things that are sorely lacking for much of its duration.
Relying heavily on the three talking, the on-the-fly dialogue becomes the main driving force of the film. Amongst the stories come tidbits of information and thoughts on what it is they are doing. As described by a somewhat unnecessary prologue of text—the information read is repeated during the course of the film—this cemetery is hidden away and supposedly haunted by the spirits of the women who died during surgery. You also begin to understand who these characters are and anticipate their moves. BJ, played by Stack himself, is a cocky jock, always with a hot girlfriend on his arm, out for a good time to drink some beers and chew his tobacco away from home; Brandon, (Brandon Murray), is there for his girlfriend, trying his best be useful and not make a fool out of himself, which is very hard to do; and Katlin, (Katlin Stack), is the impetus for the trip, seemingly strong-willed to any supernatural manifestations she might see, but also the first to be frightened by the bloodied towels being found, the junked cars marked in red, and the haunting lullaby sung in the distance.
While all three actors do a bang-up job in keeping the audience’s interest, the construction of the film is what hinders you from watching the obvious descent into terror. For some reason we are shown footage out of order. Going from the happy-go-lucky twenty-somethings having a good time on the road, we cut to a day or two later inside a dark house with Katlin trying her best to stay sane and find her friends. We have no clue what happened to BJ and Brandon, nor where this house came from, but the fact that the scenes’ timestamps are future dates makes us believe we’ll find out. Somehow, though, we never do—the boys eventually disappear, but that’s about it. Those moments of terror are always cut short as we jump back to extended periods of happier times. Right when we finally get into the fear aspect, we’re taken out to languish in the comedy, causing more impatience than any added suspense hoping for a return to the future. The ratio is about five to one as far as length of exposition scenes with horror ones, way too large a chasm for my interest level. I do believe if *Cemetery was shown chronologically it would have been more effective. Whereas a steady move from carefree to fearing for their lives would draw you in; the mixture of emotions just tore me out.
Redundancy is also a problem, from the repetition of the cemetery’s origins at the start—I think one frame of text talking about the name being bleeped on request of the town would have sufficed—and during Katlin’s paper reading on the steps of its entrance, to the drinking stories that are humorous and different but still very similar in context and purpose, to an odd paper tombstone at the end conflicting with the epilogue text. There is also the very fake ‘broken glass’ filter on scenes at the house, making it seem as though the camera is busted. I’m not sure this would work, but perhaps putting a piece of spider-webbed glass over the lens would have made it more realistic, rather than the post-production effect that lacks three-dimensionality. Ether way, through all these issues, I did really enjoy the horror tropes utilized in the later footage. Katlin does a great job portraying her character’s fear against the closing doors, spooky sounds, and ghosts moving through the halls. The final scene is reminiscent to endings like in Blair Witch and [Rec], yet if used right could still resonate despite similarities. I think with a little extra editing and reworking of scene order—perhaps even making it all take place in one day since we never see them discover the house anyway—Stack could have a winner.
*Cemetery 5/10 | ★ ★