The Curse of Buckout Road opens with a seminar discussion about why, as a society, we create and then destroy myths. One student, Cleo, (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) proffers the idea that humanity is proving its progress as a species by dismantling legends that it had previously used to rationalise unexplainable phenomena. Unfortunately, the following 90 minutes show that artistically, as a species creating horror films, we haven’t advanced much past doors mysteriously creaking open and mirror reflection jump scares to try and create a terrifying atmosphere.
Aaron (Evan Ross) returns from the Military Police Corps to stay with his grandfather, priest-turned-psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Powell (Danny Glover) just as an investigation begins into the apparent suicide of Cleo’s teacher Stephanie on the titular Buckout Road in Westchester, New York. The road itself is alleged to really be one of the most haunted streets in the United States, and the film uses the urban legends of various dubious websites to create a mishmash of supernatural adversaries.
Resentful of his distant and withdrawn grandparent, Aaron is ready to walk out on a nice dinner at the first hint of any tension between them, even though Lawrence has Danny Glover’s calming husky voice and has looked after him ever since his parents died in a car crash. When another tragic accident occurs, Aaron has to work together with Cleo and a pair of brothers called Derek and Erik to investigate whether the folklore concerning Buckout Road connects the mysterious events with the bizarre sleepwalking dreams they have collectively started having.
Although the ‘curse’ involves albino cannibals, a domestically abusive pilgrim and a trio of witches burnt at the stake, the narrative starts to lose its momentum early in the second act, as the repetitive nature of the dreams and the drip-feeding of information starts to feel like the stretching out of a fairly thin plot rather than the intricate building of creeping suspense. Aaron is regrettably not an interesting enough character to hang the waning story of the entire film on. Besides his penchant for walking out on meals, his inner turmoil over his parents’ death is not especially engaging and even when he is revealed as a potential teenage arsonist and lucid dreamer, Evan Ross doesn’t have much to do beyond furrow his brow and ask classic confused protagonist questions like “What’s happening?”
This is Canadian actor Matthew Currie Holmes’s directorial début and has evidently had difficulty obtaining distribution since its completion in 2017. Lindsay Ljungkull’s choppy editing is unfortunately more suited to the Discovery Channel programmes like Finding Bigfoot and Expedition Unknown that they have previously worked on rather than a feature-length horror film such as this. The stylistic decision to place a scratchy analogue-style filter on one section of the dream sequences is also a little bewildering, and this Grindhouse effect only adds to the disjointed nature of the film. Fragments of dreams and memories flash by, but with little effect other than to be mildly confusing. Sadly, the only curse this film might sustain is that of the actors who only got to direct one film. With Marlon Brando and Charles Laughton in that group, it’s almost a badge of honour.