Recently, Meg and I were lucky enough to attend a screening of the new independent horror Cassadaga. Making its debut at L.A.’s Screamfest, Cassadaga has been making the festival rounds, and hopefully will soon be available for a wider viewing. Trust me, you’ll want to see this.
Being a home-grown Florida girl, I am always interested in films that take place in my own backyard. Now I’m a little worried that this film is too close to home. Set in the sleepy southern town of Cassadaga, Florida, this film encompasses some of the inherent creepiness of the south while adding a few new twists.
Cassadaga is so much more than a simple ghost story. It is a bit of a mind-bender and not what the jaded horror fan would expect. The film follows Lily (Kelen Coleman), a young woman who’s had her fair share of tragedy in her life. Raising her younger sister herself, Lily is a deaf art teacher in a small town. She’s looking to move herself and her sister on their meager savings to Paris, in the hope of a better and brighter life. Shortly before their new life begins, Lily’s sister is tragically killed when she is hit by a car. Devastated Lily seeks closure in the small Central Floridian town of Cassadaga where she goes to lose herself in her art. Lily and a few of her new friends, including the attractive Mike (True Blood‘s Kevin Alejandro), visit a medium while in Cassadaga. The medium assists Lily in contacting her sister, but in the process unleashes a spirit bent on vengeance. Lily is haunted by a young woman brutally murdered, and the spiritual attacks only get worse until Lily takes her fate into her own hands and decides to solve the murder and put the ghost’s spirit to rest.
What you don’t get from this description is how absolutely disturbing the entire film is. I literally spent half the film in Meg’s lap cowering. The location is a prime component for the atmosphere-laden film. Cassadaga is a real place located in Central Florida and is known as the Psychic Capital of the World. Home to mediums and psychics alike, Cassadaga is a spiritual camp established in the late 1800’s. Naturally, this makes the Spanish moss-covered oaks and historical homes even more creepy. But that’s just the setting. What got me was the absolutely oppressive tension that is built throughout the film by the progressively more violent ghost attacks and the twisted, disturbing killer’s story. It’s essentially a two for one. A ghost and a slasher film artfully welded together into a cohesive hell for poor Lily.
An interesting device used in this film is the fact that Lily is deaf. When robbed of your hearing, the known quantity of the standard horror film is flipped on its ass and the creative team of Cassadaga use this to their advantage with moments of silence and creative sound. Coupled with a well written score it all works rather nicely.
The acting is also extremely believable. My heart aches for Lily. She’s been dealt a poor hand in life, but she’s such an admirable character. She takes control of her life and she fights back. Something that more women in horror films need to do. I both love and resent Mike and the killer, Geppetto, is by far one of the most demented individuals to ever be thought into existence.
Speaking of Geppetto, he is quite a creative slasher character. Twisted, cruel, original, and stomach turning, he is very well presented and horribly inspired. What he does to his victims is just as his name implies and the glimpses provided in the trailer only skim the surface of his depravity. It’s very easy to take a demented killer and lose the edge in an attempt to be too gruesome. Luckily, Geppetto is up there with Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs) and Carl Stargher (The Cell). His crimes will stay with you even after you leave the theater and you’ll wonder a little bit about the minds that could come up with such a person, I’m looking at you Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley.
Directed by horror aficionado and The Midnight Meat Train executive producer, Anthony DiBlasi, Cassadaga has the formula for great horror, but it also is a fantastic film. I went into the film thinking it was just another independent stab a horror and came out looking for my blankie. Cassadaga has the story telling power to stay with you long after you’ve left the theater and the acting is high-caliber enough that you truly feel for these people. The effects are subtle and lend to the story seamlessly. During the screening I had the privilege of sitting next to the actress that was one of Geppetto’s victims and the scenes were so well done that she was having a hard time with them, and she was there! Overall a fantastic film, a disturbing horror and one I would happily add to my collection.