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Cherry Falls (2000)

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Score: 6/10

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: October 20th, 2000 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Geoffrey Wright Actors: Brittany Murphy, Gabriel Mann, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr, Candy Clark, Amanda Anka, Joe Inscoe, Natalie Ramsey, Douglas Spain, Kirsten Miller

I

n the tranquil Virginian town of Cherry Falls, Rod (Jesse Watrouse) and Stacy (Bre Blair) make out inside their parked car, atop a secluded hill. But the location turns out not to be as sequestered as they had hoped when a woman with scraggly, black hair pulls up and promptly butchers them with a knife. Meanwhile, Kenny (Gabriel Mann) tries to coax Jody (Brittany Murphy) into going all the way, as they too cuddle in a car. Among the youths of Cherry Falls, dying a virgin (at the tender age of a teenager, no less) seems to be a major concern.

That sentiment is put to the test, literally, when Sheriff Brent Marken (Michael Biehn), who conveniently happens to be Jody’s father, investigates the double homicide the following morning, along with an additional murder that points to a serial killer specifically targeting virgins. The students of George Washington High School aren’t terribly concerned at first, resorting to standard wisecracking and jests, even in the face of the grisly slayings. Forthright talk about sex, preoccupations with matchmaking, the separation and organization of cliques, and insensitive comments plague Leonard Marliston’s (Jay Mohr) literature class, though this is representative of nearly everyone’s glib attitudes toward death. “What’s wrong with you people!”

From the start, Biehn is excellent in his role as the no-nonsense cop, playing it straight even when supporting characters refuse to. Matching his performance is the gruesomeness of the murders, made more engaging by the suggestion of a female serial killer, which is unusual both in real life and in the movies. Jump scares and shuddersome violence further contribute to a sincerity not often found in teen slashers of the ‘90s; here, the combination of serious crime drama and a rather large suspect pool places the personas a bit out of their typical characterizations.

There’s also some amusing commentary on virginity and its role in social situations (and its use as a cornerstone for protagonists in the horror genre), as well as in common fantasies for women’s ideal first encounters versus men’s anxiousness to simply accumulate large numbers of sexual partners. Here, the villain’s focus makes for a fascinating complement to the likes of Freddy Krueger, a nemesis whose victims also engage in juvenile proclivities, and who is comparably driven to kill for revenge. Whereas Freddy’s modus operandi functions on an unavoidable element (sleep), the antagonist in “Cherry Falls” singles out a quality that is entirely alterable (chasteness). Especially for the girls, the outrageous question becomes: Is it worth sacrificing the quality of a lover for the chance to avoid a murderer’s blade? Murphy’s behavior, particularly around her father and her favorite teacher, turns these themes into something rather clumsy; she’s very unnatural in her depiction of adolescence, and even when she gains psychological dominance, it transforms into an aggressive libido (and a sucked toe or two). At least the adults tend to devolve into panicky children during moments of realization, which is wholly believable.

Creepy hallways, abandoned classrooms, lightless stairwells, and a dilapidated old house make for effective sets, while Jody’s brief practicing of self-defense gives her an edge as a capable heroine. And she’s also a shrewd investigator, hinted at by her interests in extracurricular journalism (or, perhaps, merely her ease around library resources). Yet “Cherry Falls” has a tendency to introduce a couple of appropriate ideas, and then detract from them with a moment of distressing idiocy. Warping authority figures and parents into untrustworthy characters is a wise maneuver; but a massive orgy to create immunity from the killer is handled like pure comedy. The initial mood is that of successful teen horror movie brethren (including “Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and “Urban Legend”); but a dated rock soundtrack is out of sync with the events, and the pacing drags as background roles ponder how to pair off for survival – again, filled with humor more than genuine desperation. Numerous components are managed with care at the beginning, but the finale, though blood-soaked and twisty, is such a comical deviation that it nearly destroys the moderate successes from the start. Just as the movie opened with intentional scares, it certainly ends with unintentional laughs.

– Mike Massie

 



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