Saturday, 25 November 2017

Buckout Road

Blood in the Snow Film Festival is an annual film fest held in Toronto with a mandate to support, promote, and exhibit independent Canadian horror, genre, and underground film.

I first learned of this movie a few weeks ago, searching the Internet for upcoming horror movies to talk about on my podcast. Back then, I kinda made fun of it but my co-host was intrigued. Thing was, I'd already heard about Buckout Road--the place--but didn't know anything about the legend. And now, I guess, I do. Turns out some of the stories they tell in the film are the real urban legends associated with Buckout Road.

The film begins, as so many do, with a lecture on the movie's subject matter. In this case, a "humanities" class discusses the nature of belief systems and the need for faith. This, of course, sets the stage for a longer musing on legends and belief. Or it would if the film followed a normal trajectory. The film's final moments take viewers in a new direction. I hesitate to call it a twist (because the actual twist happens earlier in the story), really it's more of a jarring, last-minute change of course.

Shortly after Aaron returns home to his grandfather's house, he meets Cleo. Cleo, he soon learns, suffers from bad dreams and when Aarons starts having nightmares the two decide to team up. They're joined by twin bothers Erik and Derek, who've been know to sleepwalk their way to Buckout Road. As it happens, everyone's dreams relate to some aspect of the road's legend, but what do they mean?

The answer, when it comes, is a little disappointing to tell the truth. The problem lies in the fact that the film's controlling idea is completely underwritten--hence the big left turn in the plot. At the risk of ruining the movie, I'll say only this: Buckout Road isn't haunted.

For all it's faults, the movie looks good. The characters are likable, which is a plus, and, more importantly the film doesn't waste your time. How many movies have we endured in which the characters refuse to believe what they're experiencing is real, replacing forward momentum with pointless bickering? Thankfully, Buckout Road's characters are all pragmatists. Even Aaron's psychologist grandfather knows something weird is going on, and he springs into action. And Aaron's own search for answers leads him on a personal journey during which he manages to reconcile his past.

But all this good will is shot to hell when the film inexplicably abandons its ghostly premise in favour of something far more demanding in terms of the willing suspension of disbelief. When The Diabolical pulled this stunt and switched gears at the end, it was surprising, sure, but it also made sense. Buckout Road's attempt at the cinematic bait-and-switch has no satisfying pay-off.

As a final example of how the film doesn't know how to handle its subject matter, I turn to the use of legend within the story. Partway through the film, Aaron visits a church where the priest shares with him a bit of local history and then tells him a highly abridge version of the Descent of Inanna. In the movie version, the goddess Inanna is sent to hell and when she returns she's surrounded by demons so Enki, Lord of the Earth, takes her place in hell so she can be free. The priest tells Aaron the story is known in many religions, and says the Hindu call it karma. For starters, there's nothing karmic about that story. For seconders, the original story does a much better job laying the thematic groundwork for the movie. In the actual Descent of Inanna, Inanna attempts to take over the underworld and dies in the process. She is brought back to life with Enki's help, but he doesn't set foot in the underworld. Rather, it's Inanna's husband, Dimmuz, who didn't properly mourn her death, who is forced to go below and take her place.

The thing is, there was no reason to include the Sumerian myth at all. The movie already has three real urban legends to draw from, all of which are debunked partway through the film. But, for whatever reason, the filmmakers couldn't figure out how to leverage these plot points. The fact that Buckout Road includes some truly great dream sequences specific to each urban legend only makes this whole state of affairs worse. What's the point of being able to dreamwalk through legend if it makes no difference in the waking world?

Buckout Road is a film without proper direction. Although its characters are barreling toward a conclusion, it's not the right one.


busterggi said...

Living across the street from what used to be called "Frankenstein Road" some 50 years ago I've watched many a teen wander up the road for free scares & possible sex. Things have changed and its no longer a destination anymore. Quite sad to see an urban legend die.

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