Friday, January 9, 2009

Cherry Falls (USA, 2000)

(Trailer.) An interesting slasher flick that comes close to but in the end doesn’t quite deliver all that it promises. In other words, much better than average and thus much more memorable than most, but not as consistently effective (or scary) as Geoffrey Wright's much more disturbing and oddly politically incorrect (non-slasher) skinhead social study Romper Stomper (1992/trailer), which stars an at-the-time unknown Russell Crowe.
Cherry Falls lines up neatly in behind the long list of hip, self-reflective teen horror flicks that become the rage over at the turn of the last century, from Scream and sequels (1996, 1997 & 2000) to I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997/trailer) to Faculty (1998/trailer) to the German production Anatomy (2000/trailer). Wright and scriptwriter Ken Seldom take this postmodern stance one step further by taking the most cherished of notions of teen body count films — that sex equals death and only virgins survive — one step beyond in the opposite direction. As the movie's extremely ironic title implies, only those with intact cherries fall. In the day and age of AIDS and protected sex (or better yet, to believe the unrealistic and misinformed, no sex at all), the young teens of Cherry Falls are faced with death by their very innocence, the murderer seemingly only interested in killing the virtuous. (Much like the end message of The Faculty is "do drugs", the end message of Cherry Falls is pretty much "have premarital sex.") By the film's end, it is revealed that the killer's aim is less at the virtuous than at the hypocritical, though by the big, climactic scene (s)he becomes rather unselective: the final orgy of blood is so in more ways than one, as not only are cherries being popped left and right, but the killer's slashing knife slits rather indiscriminately.
The film opens rather promisingly, with a nice young couple making out by the lakeside, the boy persistent, the girl protective of her honor. In the tradition of numerous urban legends and gore-fests, a car drives up and in no time flat the body count begins, the slur "virgin" slashed deeply into the thigh of each dead teen. The killer is a long-haired woman or a hippie (do they still exist?) who likes leather miniskirts, and the first possible suspect is Marge Markin (Candy Clark), the bottle-tipping, cigarette-smoking mom of Jody Markin, the film's virginal female hero. (As played by Brittany Murphy, who is fondly remembered as a character actress from Freeway (1996/trailer) or Sin City (2005/trailer) and not so fondly from Clueless (1995/trailer), Jody is a young, virginal version of the breathy, black-clad lesbian played by Meg Tilly in Bound (1996/trailer), only she's just more exuberant than breathy and a bit less, well, stacked.)
Jody's father is Sheriff Brent Markin (Michael Biehn), who only needs a third dead young lady with "virgin" carved on her thigh to realize what the unknown killer has targeted, and that his daughter is thus also a potential victim. Calling a town meeting to reveal what he knows to all parents, a fistfight breaks out amongst the upright citizens even as the killer stuffs victim number four into a locker and then proceeds to have a knock-down, tear-the-room-apart fight with Jody, who is in no way an easy lady. Later, at the police station her composite picture of the long-legged murderer gives her daddy a shock, for it looks surprisingly like an oddball girl who disappeared some 25 years earlier. But why is the drawing so upsetting to the sheriff? Jody sets out to solve the mystery while her classmates set out to all lose their cherries at a big ball — er, bash — at the local party spot. Her dad sets of to find the long-missing oddball, but finds a seemingly deserted house that not only leaves more questions unanswered but, like the last scene in the movie, also leaves room for the sequel — a sequel that is obviously never to be.
That Cherry Falls is excellently made cannot be denied. Likewise, the acting is generally top notch, with special kudos going to Brittany Murphy. Michael Biehn, best remembered as Arnie's adversary in The Terminator (1984/trailer), is relatively restrained, his friendly, concerned low-key attitude making the revelation of his dark secret close to the film's end all the more shocking. The flaw of the story is a killer who is much too obvious, not to mention almost too unbelievable. Along the lines of the nutty brother who waits 15 years to take revenge on the death of his sister in the original Prom Night (1980/trailer), the killer of Cherry Falls has had more or less 25 years to ready his revenge. Fine and dandy, but even if one does swallow the concept that revenge-driven serial killers are also unnaturally patient, a few more convincing red herrings would have been nice, for after the first scene in which those muscular, panty-hosed legs are seen, it is obvious that only one character in the movie (other than the sheriff, in any event) could wear an outfit like that, and it ain't Jody's jerky boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann). Nor could Jody's slush of a mini-skirted mom, for that matter. (Candy Clark is once again almost unrecognizable in yet another of the small supporting roles she has come to be doomed in, but always does so convincingly.)
Structural flaws aside, the ending definitely pulls out all the stops, complete with the unexpected death of a main character and the killer going full-tilt wacko amongst a house full of half-naked and naked teens.
Along the way, Wright and Selden try to take a few swipes at the hypocrisy of the supposedly upstanding, but though they get some easy laughs and a few shocking revelations, they never really achieve any depth in their social commentary and criticism. Still, Cherry Falls gets plus-points because tries so hard, something most other modern teen killer or monster flicks don't even bother doing. For that reason alone, mildly disappointing or not, the film is miles better than most of its ilk and definitely worth watching.

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