What had the potential to be ever-so-slightly intriguing instead descends into a mindless cycle of confused, bewildered actors running around screaming in the dark.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown, is a meta- sequel/remake, to the 1976 slasher horror film of the same name. Truthfully exactly what it is, is never entirely clear. Nor is it particularly clear what the film’s intention exactly is. Is it trying to be clever? Is it aiming to deconstruct the slasher genre? Is it a comment on spectatorship? Precisely why is every other shot at a canted angle? All of these questions and more, will be in no way answered by viewing the film itself.
Meta-horror has a long standing tradition established by the likes of Scream and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. The Town That Dreaded Sundown, feels most in line with the latter despite a few blatant steals from the former, but clearly lacks any of its wit, smarts, scares, talent or originality. Just like in New Nightmare, the narration takes place in a world in which the original film actually exists, and has been embraced by a popular audience and frequent references are made to it. Unlike in New Nightmare however, there isn’t really a point to any of this. It’s long been accepted that if you’re going to play around with the conventions of a genre, or try to do something a little postmodern, then you should maybe have a reason to do so, which is perhaps where the film’s biggest flaw is. It sets up a fairly interesting concept and then does absolutely nothing with it and just resigns itself to being a slasher-by numbers.
All the usual clichés are marched out without so much as a knowing wink or any sign of self-awareness. That’s not to say that it’s an especially bad film. If you can accept it for what it is then it’s fun enough, and it’s nice to see a contemporary horror film that doesn’t feel overly tame or restrained (there’s more than enough bloodletting to keep hardened gore-hounds happy). The problem however, is that you’re not really permitted to enjoy the film for what it is. The director simply wont allow you to. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon throws every single stylistic trick he has at the screen, in the hope that something somewhere sticks. The result is a film that’s fraught with long tracking-shots, obnoxious camera movement, showy filters and needless effects. Not that any of these things are inherently evil, but when a director so desperately uses them to get attention it becomes distracting and profoundly annoying.
It seems like one of the prerequisites for enjoying The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a conscious abandonment of any semblance of logic or sense. Sometimes things are coherent, in a “dream-logic” kind of way, as people do and say things that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch film. But if the characters’ decisions and the plot points don’t confuse you enough, then the film’s disorienting editing will provide the finishing blow. Cutting is so quick that certain images are practically subliminal, whilst there are whole scenes in which it is impossible to discern where anyone is in relation to anyone else, until they’re suddenly right next to each other. This is perhaps best exemplified in the film’s baffling chase sequences, in which, through the power of poor continuity editing, the killer is able to traverse 200 feet in the space of one cut. Maybe the film is quite innovative after all.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (2014) directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is distributed in UK cinemas by Orion Pictures, certificate 18.