Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Staunton Hill (2009)

Degenerates and hippies square off in 1969

What makes this horror project from Cameron Romero--George "Of the Dead" Romero's son--a head scratcher, is how do you take something so basic in concept and make it so confusing and jumbled? The direction, editing, cinematography, continuity and character motivation--you name it--are all over the place at times for a story that's just a simple "Texas Chainsaw" outing that takes place some decades ago on a farm with a group of unsuspecting individuals against a family of weirdos that live life on the twisted side for a crazed cause.

Three gals and two guys are traveling through Virginia to get over to the rallies in D.C. in 1969. They hitch a ride with an accommodating guy named Quintin after getting snubbed by passersby and the locals who don't like their colored friend. Quintin's car overheats and they're out of water in the middle of nowhere. They take a shortcut over a hill to get to the highway, only to find a barn that appears to be uninhabited. They stay the night with one couple getting frisky, the other only heating up and the last turning cold when Quintin suddenly starts to act off put like he's anxious for something to happen or just wants to get away.

This takes far too long to establish their story and characters, only to end up with little to say and cardboard cut outs in vacant scenarios for the wait. There are bits and pieces of info scattered about to pick up on but they aren't laid out in a very intriguing or mysterious way to make this engaging. The time period has a few tidbits of terminology dropped, along with social subjects such as animal rights, but then not picked up again or carried over with dual meaning. It made it seem more a gimmick than anything useful, except to possibly dodge modern technology such as cell phones. Not to mention the picture quality looks far too sharp without any added filters to give it more of a warmer or vintage look than a modern one. Some of the motivations of what they're portraying doesn't always line up between scenes, to the point of where it makes it confusing as to what hints you're supposed to be paying attention to for later or not. Their "twist" is obvious from the get-go but then for some reason shown on two separate occasions in flashbacks as if you didn't get it the first time.

Some of the editing has tendency to jump, such as one character doing one thing or in one position and then in the next moved around or gone without explanation. It seems like they bit off more than they could chew with too many people and then couldn't decide which perspective it wanted to concentrate on: the protagonists or the antagonists. Some of the camera angles seem more concerned with the scenery and surroundings than the characters themselves. You don't even get an actual shot of their facial features till much later, which makes them seem less like people than devices to be moved around at leisure. It doesn't exactly make a viewer shake in their boots when they can't see themselves in the same position.

Even when the going gets rough, the characters lack all intuition to put up a challenging fight against a dim wit, obese woman and another in a wheel chair who's an alcoholic no less. A farmhouse with tools and contraptions laying about aren't capitalized on for weapons and then people who travel the country don't have an ounce of survival skills? It makes most of the action scenes anticlimactic and lack tension or anticipation. I've seen more spirit and less bonehead moves from high school cheerleaders in slasher films. They didn't even play up the potential to make them hippy pacifists that realize violence is necessary in certain circumstances. There are flashbacks to the insignificant good and innocent times they shared earlier in the movie as if to be sympathetic, but it makes them seem like they had no life prior to the movie.

The biggest problem with "Staunton Hill" is the filmmakers tend to lose the audience over and over again to the point of being unconcerned even with people getting hurt or when gore is shown. It lacks a central driving point with a tone that feels too general, only to move along in a zig zag that causes one's senses to go haywire from confusion. There is some kind of dry as toast humor thrown in that doesn't help its cause neither. This had potential to be a simple horror film that you can count on but it feels rushed from most likely getting messed up somewhere in the behind the scenes. Not sure what happened but the final result is less than even mildly entertaining or redeeming even for the short time invested watching it.

Rating: 2/10

Director: Cameron Romero (Plant Life, The Screening)
Link: IMDB

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