Thursday, June 28, 2007
#15: Cherry Falls (Geoffrey Wright, 2000)
It's disappointing that "Cherry Falls" got lost in the shuffle, while Wes Craven's "Scream" became a pop culture phenomenon. (To see my rather low opinion of "Scream," click here) "Scream" predated "Cherry Falls" by four years, so maybe the comparison is groundless. However, both films ostensibly poke self-referential post-modern fun at the cliches of, and yet still (supposedly) work as, teenage slasher films. "Cherry Falls," however, is funnier, scarier, less belabored and obvious, and less ethically suspect. Wright is less contemptuous of his audience than Craven, and doesn't resort to the annoying habit of "Scream"'s incessant play-by-play instructions on how to read the film. I don't need the characters in the movie to tell me I'm watching a movie. I know that. Damn.
"Cherry Falls" has a simple, funny premise. A serial killer is systematically wiping out teens in the small town of Cherry Falls, but instead of punishing bad girls for having sex, he/she is killing virgins. Once the word gets out, those wacky teens organize a "fuckfest" for the weekend to eliminate themselves as victims. Additionally, the killings may have something to do with a dark secret in the town's past, involving a few prominent citizens. The director and screenwriter know that the self-referential inversion of the sex=death template of slasher films in "Cherry Falls" is obvious, and they don't feel the need to constantly explain it to the audience. The material is played relatively straight, though not without some John Hughes-esque intentionally badly written teen slang and sex-related gags. The killings, in particular, are far from comedic, with some truly suspenseful shocks and a creepy-looking killer of ambiguous gender (why is this so scary? does it go back to "Psycho"?). Brittany Murphy is interesting in the lead. I like her. She's got an oddball delivery that makes me think of her as a real person and not the anonymous spokesmodel so many of her young Hollywood peers seem to be. Michael Biehn is also good as her father.
The movie's got some problems. It runs out of gas in the final third. The killer's identity is probably pretty obvious, but I had already rejected him/her in my mind earlier in the film. He/she is a pretty ridiculous choice for a killer, and the climactic final killing spree scene is played for laughs. It is a funny scene and regains some of the momentum lost shortly before, but it's kind of a cop-out compared to the straight-faced brutality of the earlier murders. "Cherry Falls" also suffered an editing hack-job to whittle it from an NC-17 to an R rating. This may explain why there are a few intimations of unrequited incestuous lust between Murphy and Biehn that are set up and then forgotten, why one of the murder scenes is cut so short, and why some of the subplots are so quickly wrapped up.
However, "Cherry Falls" is something "Scream" wasn't: fun.