Releasing today, Friday the 13th, on DVD and VOD we have what may be a first in horror history (as far as I know); a horror film co-produced by a popular Halloween Horror Theme Park. Talon Falls is set at Talon Falls Screampark in Melber, Kentucky, where the film was actually shot. Which means that the plot of the film is probably fairly predictable to most of you reading this: a group of teens on their winter break drive up from Nashville and end up visiting Talon Falls Screampark, where they discover that not all of the actors are acting!
The film is written, edited, co-produced, and directed by newcomer Joshua Shreve and for a first attempt at a feature length horror film (he’s directed one other feature before this), there’s a lot to like. At the same time, it also suffers from a few issues that should be discussed as well. But more of that in a moment.
I don’t know whose idea it was to film at Talon Falls Screampark but it was a fantastic one. If only for the fact that it means a ton of money is saved on sets, props, and costumes. That it kind of forces the story to follow a predictable path is a minus, but with enough innovation and imagination, Talon Falls could have been something very culty classicy. As it is, however, a few innovative ideas are undermined by gore that, while extremely bloody, is remarkably absent in actuality (except for a few quick shots), strained believability, and a botched framing sequence that sucks most of the tension out of the film.
Let’s discuss that last point first since while it’s a spoiler, it is the opening of the film. Our final girl, Lyndsey (Morgan Wiggins), covered in blood, comes running out of the woods, flags down a tow truck and barely escapes, sobbing and telling the driver that all her friends are dead. Fade to black and when she wakes up we see that she’s blindfolded in a poorly lit room with a doctor asking her what happened. Cue the rest of the film as a flashback.
Not only do we now know that nobody else gets out alive, it is painfully obvious that she’s still in the clutches of the killers. Which means the truck driver is also working with the killers. Which means that the “shocking” “twist” ending is neither shocking nor a twist. We’ve been waiting for it for ninety minutes or so. If they’d revisited this opening halfway through the film or at the start of the final act instead of just before the credits, it could have been salvaged.
But such is not the case. I mean, shit. That’s the final scene on the fucking poster!
Which brings us to the gore. By doubling down on the horror and torture that these characters are going to go through, the film could have softened the damage of the framing sequence. We know everybody’s dead, so let’s kill them in insanely violent and creative ways! This doesn’t really happen either. Covering everything in blood helps to create the mood, and the actors give blood-chilling performances as they’re being “tortured,” but as for actual gore, the only standouts are an ear getting sliced off and a toenail getting ripped off. Both are disgusting and great, but there’s a lot more cutting away at the last second than there is showing some gnarly practical effects.
Before anyone asks, I know and understand the concept of letting the audience’s imagination go to work. It can be a very effective way of creating horror (see: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). But this is a film that is built on the idea of watching people being tortured without knowing the torture is real. There’s a precedent that needs to be maintained, otherwise, the film fails to live up to its expectations.
And as stated, we already know everybody dies. There’s an obligation to make the deaths count.
Which brings us to the strained believability. Talon Falls Screampark is a real place. It’s not just real, it’s established and successful. As shown in the film, thousands of people visit this place and shots around the park are filled with hundreds of real-life extras. This isn’t a traveling carnival that plucks a victim or two every few stops, it’s a business with hundreds of employees and, as is revealed over the course of the film, dozens of victims every single night and a corpse pit that is filled to bursting (in what is a truly disturbing shot that is just in the wrong film).
They’ve even got a creepy, mentally challenged gas station owner in a mostly-deserted town sending victims their way as if they don’t have regular advertising. Everything about this film says the Screampark should be a tiny, almost-deserted family affair, but then you lose the central conceit: they have a huge audience because the killings are so graphic and believable. If there’s no audience, they have no victims – someone should figure out the victim to spectator ratio to see what the sustainability numbers are like.
And there doesn’t seem to be any other reason for the killings. There’s not even any hinted-at secret cannibalism. At least sell hot dogs and hamburgers made of people to the rubes instead of just dumping bodies down a chute!
This is a fundamental problem with the specific idea of shooting at Talon Falls Screampark unless the killings are somehow being done by a rogue element in the park, and to be frank, that may have been the intention. The real Screampark has a number of different areas, and most of the killings here seem to be centered in one location, so there’s a workaround for the believability problem.
Although that still means dozens of people go missing per night, so unless it actually is a larger, organized effort with at least the police involved in covering up the disappearances, they’re still going to attract unwanted attention.
Argh! I want to like this movie so hard, but thinking about anything just tugs at threads that unravel the whole thing.
To close on a good note, though, the film looks good. Shreve and cinematographer Jeff Steinborn work wonders with a limited budget establishing distinctly different lighting and color schemes depending on where the characters are in the Screampark. The actors are also good for what they are required to do – which is pretty much be annoying until they die horribly. Brad Bell, who plays Lance, is particularly enthusiastic, making his character such an asshole that when he meets his demise, it’s kind of welcome.
I can’t wait to see what Shreve can do with a better script and no restrictions.