Saturday, April 28, 2012

In short: Cassadaga (2011)

Some time after deaf art student Lily (Kelen Coleman) has lost her teenage sister and only living relative in an accident, she decides to step back into life again. With the help of Claire Anderson (Louise Fletcher), an artist herself, Lily gets a stipend (as well as free board in Claire's mansion) that provides her with the ability to study and paint at the university of Cassadaga.

The painter also teaches the basics of her craft to children. During the course of that particular activity, Lily meets Mike (Kevin Alejandro), the father of one of her students as well as a quite eligible and clearly interested bachelor. When out on a date with some of Mike's friends, the idea comes up to visit the spiritualist enclave at the edge of town and go to a séance. And wouldn't you know it, Lily, not quite surprising given her still wavering mental state, makes contact with her sister, even hearing her voice? But the séance also attracts a different ghost, a murder victim who latches onto Lily and doesn't let go of her afterwards, plaguing the woman with terrifying visions and a lot of maggots.

It's clear the dead woman wants Lily to do something for her, probably finding her body or her killer, and won't leave Lily in peace until she has done it, but how exactly Lily is supposed to go about that, the dead girl ain't exactly clear about.

Eventually, Lily will cross paths with said killer, a man who likes to turn women into living dolls.

Anthony DiBlasi's Cassadaga is - despite marketing that rather suggests just another film about people bound to chairs or hanging from chains from a ceiling - a neat little ghost story that may not do much that is new for its given sub-genre, yet that goes about its job effectively enough to make one forget about that flaw.

A large part of the film's effectiveness is based on the time and care it spends on developing its characters. DiBlasi shows just as much - if not more - interest in providing Lily (and to a degree Mike) with a believable backstory and depth of emotion as he does in showing us the spooky stuff. Of course, this makes Lily's misadventures more interesting than when they'd happen to our usual horror movie heroine, blonde bimbo number two.

Speaking of Lily, I found it quite admirable how the film treats her deafness. Even though it is used as a plot mechanic in some of the suspense scenes, the film treats the deafness in more complex and interesting way than I would have expected it to do, never reducing the character to "that deaf girl", using her disability as a normal part of her life that influences her in many ways but not as her defining character trait.

When it comes to the more horrifying stuff, DiBlasi demonstrates a sure hand for atmosphere and the creepiness that comes from things one doesn't quite see or understand. Cassadaga's more blunt moments are slightly less effective: while the film's conception of living dolls is disturbing enough, I don't think the film would have lost out if the dead girl's killer would have been your more day-to-day murderer. That could also have saved the film from its worst moment, an intro scenes that shows us the killer's origin complete with bad acting and a cut off penis, a scene which sets a tone the following film then doesn't share at all.

Despite these slight misgivings, Cassadaga is an always competent, often good effort, another pleasant demonstration that indie horror doesn't have to be crap.


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