Netflix Watch: Preparing for Halloween

With August at an end, we’re ready to bid farewell to the summer and usher in the start of the Halloween season, full of ghosts, ghouls and witches. In our household, we commence the festivities not only with spooky decorations but also some tales of horror, such as these two that are available on Netflix streaming.

‘A Haunting at Silver Falls’

My only reason for watching this low-budget indie horror flick wasn’t word of mouth, rave reviews or even the plot. It’s the title that caught my attention. After a few minutes of flipping through Netflix’s latest batch of new additions and recommendations, I just happened to stumble upon the name “Silver Falls.” It’s a real place not too far from where I live, though I don’t know of it being haunted. I know that Multnomah Falls comes with an old Native American legend about a chief’s young daughter who committed suicide there, but I hadn’t any stories concerning Silver Falls. Stupid me, I should have read the synopsis a little closer.

‘A Haunting at Silver Falls’ isn’t about any ancient legends or angry spirits from a long-ago period haunting the state park. It’s your typical and pretty straightforward supernatural murder mystery – the sort where a ghost appears only to one person in the frankly stupid hope of avenging its wrongful death. In that process, the person being haunted is made to look crazy or disturbed in the eyes of others, while effectively making people of science, logic and skepticism look like a bunch of elitist idiots for not believing in the unbelievable. That’s really the gist of the plot. It’s generic and uninspiring gibberish that can pretty much apply to most any paranormal picture.

In this case, our crazy person is teenager Jordan (Alix Elizabeth Gitter), who still suffers the trauma of losing both her parents: her mother to suicide when Jordan was a little girl, and recently her father in a car wreck. Now living with her aunt and uncle (Tara Westwood and Steve Bacic) in Oregon, strange things start to happen after discovering a mysterious ring near Silver Falls. Everyone excuses the strangeness and Jordan’s erratic behavior as the actions of a troubled young mind still bereaving. Of course, we know better since the spooky-looking ghost of a murdered girl literally follows Jordan everywhere – sitting at the breakfast table, riding along in the car and even joining our poor hapless protagonist to school. I’ve gotta wonder if the spirit gives Jordan at least a few minutes alone on the toilet.

I love supernatural horror movies because they’re about the only types that manage to give me some chills and frights. ‘A Haunting in Silver Falls’ doesn’t even come remotely close to generating a sense of dread or terror, let alone ever once creeping me out. Heck, director Brett Donowho can’t even manage a single jump scare. The story meanders about with cool imagery, but none of the atmosphere to make it worthwhile. The only thing going for it is the murder mystery itself, which honestly keep me guessing until the end. The shocking reveal in the last few minutes definitely comes as a surprise, but I don’t think the math adds up right because it would make our killer much older. And why go so over the top in making that killer such a nutcase? I suppose in a plot where people of intelligence are made to look like uncaring dolts, it doesn’t come as much of surprise that narrative logic gets thrown down a waterfall.

‘The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh’

Though the last movie wasn’t entirely dreadful, it still managed to leave a bad taste of disappointment in my mouth, so I desperately needed something to make me forget it. Going on a friend’s recommendation, I decided to watch ‘The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh’ to hopefully satisfy my palette and give a better start to my Halloween festivities. (We always start a little early around these parts.) This surprisingly delightful low-budget indie horror flick comes from writer and director Rodrigo Gudiño, the founder and leading figure of the Rue Morgue empire, which stretches from movie magazine and radio to film festivals and a movie production house. It’s an interesting bit of history to grow from fanzine to a serious company dedicated to all things horror, but I digress.

‘The Last Will’ is Gudiño’s feature-length debut, and I must say that I’m impressed. The director displays a tremendous amount of skill and maturity behind the camera. He adheres to the classic “less is more” approach, which pays off in dividends as the excitedly strange tale gradually advances to a pleasing conclusion. There are no jump scares to be had in the brief 82-minute movie. The filmmakers’ attention is instead focused on developing an atmosphere of fear and a pervading, immersive sense of apprehension that feels like a bag of bricks on one’s back. With haunting cinematography by Samy Inayeh, the endless sensation of dread and sorrow is brilliantly used in the movie as a character unto itself, while creaks, squeaks, rasps and all other manner of spooky noises echo throughout a house full of various nightmarish statues.

Things immediately appear promising once the voice of Vanessa Redgrave commences to relate certain facts about the plot. What’s interesting about her voiceover is that she doesn’t speak to the audience as a narrator. Rather, it’s as if she’s reading a private letter meant for her estranged son Leon (Aaron Poole), who’s inherited the estate and is now spending the night before deciding on whether to sell the lot. The brilliance and beauty of Gudiño’s film is that the narrative is not your typical, straightforward paranormal drivel. This is a psychological horror thriller full of guilt and regret. But we’re never sure if it’s on the part of Leon or his mother, whose voice we continue to hear throughout, slowly revealing bits and pieces about their troubled relationship and their eventual falling out. It’s also unclear whether the ghostly hauntings are all in Leon’s imagination as he explores the maze-like house that robbed him of a childhood.

‘The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh’ is beautifully crafted and designed, reminiscent of the classic ‘Tales from the Crypt’ series. In fact, it could be thought of as an extended episode – not the gratuitous, over-the-top movie spin-offs that mixed gore with comedy, but the old-school, macabre potboilers about the supernatural. This explains why I find the film thoroughly entertaining and satisfying. Gudiño treats his audience with intelligence and respect as the details about the house and Leon’s traumatic childhood are exposed with a patient, deliberate pace without giving a definite an answer to the haunting as well. After enjoying this wonderfully atmospheric spookfest, I now feel as if the Halloween season has properly commenced.

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