65 years after a masked serial killer terrorized the small town of Texarkana, the so-called 'moonlight murders' begin again. Is it a copycat or something even more sinister? A lonely high school girl, with dark secrets of her own, may be the key to catching him.
Before approaching this low-radar remake I went and visited the original of the same title directed by Charles B. Pierce released back in 1976. Already earning its cult status, I expected much more than what I was given – a documentary styled slasher that was driven more by suspicion than it was by horror, never failing to add in the odd cheesy gag every now and again just to liven up a pretty dull and dark experience. In other words, I wasn’t a fan, and although the concept was good and it changed the ways I would look at a trumpet, it simply didn’t provide enough flesh on its very fragile bones. Of course given that the original didn’t tickle my fancy, I wasn’t all that hyped about visiting the remake, but then again I hated My Bloody Valentine but found a place in my heart for its 2009 3D remake. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) wasn’t near as fun or gruesome, but it travelled along the same path – a remake much better than it’s original.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown is something to be admired whether you liked it or not, it’s that simple. Playing off like Scream 4 of the Ghostface franchise, Sundown adapts this meta approach to the remake that displays it in such a way were you are unsure if it is a remake or a sequel, complicating an already complicated (by slasher standards) premise that would have played off well without the self-referential meta-mayhem, nor enhancing the story or being entirely beneficial. In saying this, it was a mighty-cool touch allowing Gomez-Rejon to slither past the typical scene-stealing that comes with every remake without the inevitable abuse he would get for doing so. He simply establishes the rules of the original whilst allowing the copycat killer to use as such to a certain extent where it both honours the original whilst twisting a sharp knife and sticking it in it. It plays safely in the remake concept without the hassle of having to “do justice to its original”. This is a huge bullet-dodger for Gomez-Rejon, but in adapting this concept he ends up resulting in an overuse of flashback footage and archive images just to keep the audience up to date with an already complicated narrative that’s layer of understanding which is vital just becomes lost in its own muddles trail.
Both the 1976 and 2014 versions are structured in a similar manner, relying heavily on the investigation process of the horror as opposed to the cutting and the slashing. This might have proved beneficial for the original, but for Gomez’s version it simply lacks the ability to keep us invested from beginning to end. Partly due to the lack of charisma from its central lead and partly due to the premise itself; Sundown blows a lot of time talking without doing, so we end up with too much explanation and not enough decapitation. When the murder does occur it is done beautifully, and is always equip with a great deal of suspense, gore and a surprising amount of originality. This all of course builds to a not-so successful final act that feels both rushed and incoherent regardless of its promising build-up. I can admit that I am a fool for a good chase scene, so the problem here is that once the intensity begins to build through frantic running and screaming on the lead’s behalf, it is all comes to a quick halt and the not-so inspired “twist” ending leaves us dangling with disappointment. This is a big shame really as more attention to its final act could have boosted Sundown from being good to great, and if not so much time was wasted on explanation and suspicion then it could have went from being great to amazing.
American Horror Story’s Gomez-Rejon has a keen eye for imagery as Sundown is beautiful to watch. It is dressed with stunning imagery that highlight the nightmare-ish quality it is, and the dream-like cinematography highlights the tone of it. Gomez-Rejon did a great job in creating something that was fascinating to watch, but if he had spent more time in making both the end result and his leading lady more engaging then he would have produced a final product remembered for more than just its imagery. Addison Timlin is a real powerhouse in this, and her performance really proves so, but her character lacks the charisma to drive the narrative like she should, thus resulting in a character we should ideally care more for when her ass is on the line. For a remake/slasher/horror the cast is surprisingly strong with the likes of Anthony Anderson and Denis O’Hare, yet it never fully takes advantage of such characters which again only highlights the negativity Sundown has to offer. In saying this it knows to take down a character and it knows how to kill them in a fascinating manner, even if they have the bare minimum of character development. Everything is amplified by a fantastically strange synch score that sounds like it was pulled right from American Horror Story itself, and given the team behind Sundown (Gomez, Ryan Murphy) I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. What I am curious to know however is how a strong team like that made so many amateur mistakes and failed to provide the deliciously evil moments Sundown was destined to have? Luckily for them there was enough good in here to overshadow the bad…
Gomez-Rejon’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake/sequel stocks up on visual thrills and sexual exploitation boasted by some genuinely intense moments, but ultimately focuses too much on an over-complicated slasher-standard premise, resulting in a slow pace and one-dimensional characters that should have been resolved given the team behind it.
THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN
2014 / 90 mins / Slasher, Thriller / 18 (R)
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Earl E. Smith
Stars: Addison Timlin, Denis O'Hare, Veronica Cartwright