Albino Cannibals, Witches and Angry Pilgrims – ‘The Curse of Buckout Road’ – Film Review

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Resentful of his distant and withdrawn grandparent, Aaron is ready to walk out on a nice dinner at the first hint of any tension between them, even though Lawrence has Danny Glover’s calming husky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.

Trawl Guy – ‘Bait’ – Film Review

There aren’t nearly enough films about fishermen. There appears to be just one very recent 2019 short film from the Dominican Republic about fisherwomen on IMDb, so technically they are almost invisible to film-makers, but fishermen are generally under-represented at the cinema, too. In spite of the fact that there is so much cinematic potential in commercial fishing – the inherent dangerousness and the crew dynamics of a testosterone-fuelled boat, the difficulty of keeping afloat both literally and financially, the potential triumph over adversity or the tragedy of the mariner’s fate – directors and producers just don’t seem to have any interest in telling stories about longliners or lobster-potting.

The Perfect Storm (Petersen, 2000) capitalises on many of the lures above but its anchovy-thin plot and overbearing sentimentalism ultimately drowns out any enjoyment. Luchino Visconti’s 1948 neorealist masterpiece La Terra Trema is undoubtedly the most critically acclaimed of all fishing-based films, but after 70 years, there has to be room in the canon for a more contemporary depiction of the fishermans’ plight. 

Mark Jenkin’s new film Bait is therefore a welcome addition to the small haul of films about fisherman, and although it doesn’t use almost any of the hypothetical spectacle or patent drama suggested above, it is one of the most original and interesting British films of the last 20 years. Shot on location in Charlestown and Penzance in Cornwall using a 16mm wind-up Bolex camera on black-and-white Kodak film, it centres on a boat-less fisherman called Martin and his fractious relationships with both his brother Steven and the Leigh family, who are staying in the village over the summer. Steven is now using their father’s trawler to take out day-tripping tourists, while the Leighs are living in his parents’ old home, making it “modern” and putting in a port-hole feature, much to Martin’s amusement.

Cornish comedian and actor Edward Rowe as Martin brilliantly embodies the absurdity of having a semi-antiquated profession and a sizable degree of bitterness while remaining likeable through his commitment to his family’s heritage and his sense of humour. He is frequently watched and given advice by his dead father, who adds to the already unsettling atmosphere created by the film’s bold visual style. As the Bolex camera has such a tight field of vision, the claustrophobia of the emotionally closed off Martin is apparent everywhere he goes, from his local pub to the (presumably) wide-open beach.

All the dialogue was added in post-production and it creates a further unnerving disconnection between the images and the audio. The flat, uninflected tone of some of the actors creates an effect somewhere between early Kaurismäki and the public service announcements Harry Enfield spoofed in the ‘90s. Jenkins processed all the film by hand, which adds to the films highly personal tone but never makes it feel provincial or limited.

The festering antagonism between local fishermen and the invading second-home tourists is is portrayed in a balanced and thoughtful way. Assuming that Mark Jenkin’s loyalty lies with the plight of Martin’s dying way of life, he doesn’t caricature the rubberneckers by making them total idiots or ignorant prigs. Instead, he unflinchingly shows their sense of entitlement and self-righteousness while partially vindicating them by showing their lack of awareness, and that fundamentally, they are just people too, kind and considerate in many ways. It’s refreshing to see a film that highlights underlying social issues without the relentless bludgeoning of more recent Loach offerings while still remaining funny and highly entertaining.

While it is too niche a subject matter and too bizarre in its methods and style to have extensive box-office draw, Bait will likely be a critics’ favourite, and justifiably so. It is uncomfortable at times, but its idiosyncrasies are what separate it out from the period dramas and dull literary adaptations that have been the mainsail of the British film industry during the 21st century. Hopefully Mark Jenkin will turn his attention to other Cornish subjects and create more beautiful, individual and exceptional films like Bait.