The words ‘from the writer of Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas’ conjure certain mental images; you’re left picturing something that resembles… well… a Tim Burton film. However, Cold Moon – an adaptation of the late Michael McDowell’s 1980 novel Cold Moon over Babylon – is an altogether different kettle of fish, brought to life with what would appear to be a considerably lower budget than Burton typically gets to play around with. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it tends not to inspire much confidence when low budget horror movies shot on cheap looking DV come onto the radar; nor is that confidence necessarily boosted when, as in this instance, it’s the work of a director whose CV consists mainly of direct to DVD cheapies for The Asylum. However, one of my personal favourites of the last decade, Some Guy Who Kills People, was made under much the same conditions, so given my confidence in both that film and the writer behind this new one, I definitely went into Cold Moon with an open mind. Unfortunately, director Griff Furst’s film proves to be every bit the dud I feared; an ambitious attempt at American Gothic which crumbles under its own weight almost immediately.
I’ll admit straight away to being completely unfamiliar with McDowell’s novel, but it’s no surprise that the film has literary beginnings, as the whole set-up screams paperback potboiler. Our setting is Babylon, a small town in Florida, and as the story takes place in the 1980s it’s naturally a place that sees the working class citizens struggle whilst the wealthy thrive. Among those hit the hardest are the Larkins, a grandmother and her two grandchildren who are struggling to keep their humble fruit farm from going under; whilst at the opposite end of the ladder, the affluent Redfields, owners of the local bank, don’t seem too concerned with helping out the little guy. However, worries about money soon fade into the background for Evelyn Larkin (Candy Clark, recently seen in Twin Peaks) and her grandson Jerry (Chester Rushing, the high school douchebag in Stranger Things), when Jerry’s younger sister doesn’t come home after school – and not long thereafter is found dead in the river. Sheriff Ted Hale (Frank ‘check out the big brain on Brett’ Whaley) is soon on the case, and a hysterical Evelyn is convinced that the sleazy Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart) is responsible. But of course, this first death is just the tip of the iceberg.
From that description, it sounds like Cold Moon is all set to whip up intrigue, mystery and suspense, particularly given that a supernatural element soon comes into play, with the ghosts of the recently deceased coming back to haunt their murderer – or at least, that’s what the murderer thinks they’re seeing… ah, look at me being all coy trying to avoid spoilers, when in truth Cold Moon doesn’t play anything close to its chest for long. This may be part of the problem: the true identity of the killer is revealed far too early, with motives that aren’t especially compelling, and in order to make up for that release in the tension, the film tries to pile on a bit of weirdness to compensate. This latter half of the film is where the Beetlejuice link in particular comes into play, as the ghostly apparitions take on increasingly bizarre appearances; however, in this instance they’re largely played straight, presumably intended to elicit real scares rather than laughs. It doesn’t prove effective. These elements might have been intended to heighten things, but they just stick out like a sore thumb in what is otherwise a very mundane, boringly constructed backwoods police procedural that could easily be confused with any bog-standard TV detective drama.
I suppose it’s never a good sign when a film’s marketing makes a point of promoting Tommy ‘The Room’ Wiseau as one of the stars of the show; which, incidentally, is bollocks, as he’s little more than a featured extra in one scene. Wiseau’s cameo notwithstanding, Cold Moon does boast a perfectly decent cast, notably with a small role for Christopher Lloyd (sadly, with this coming so soon after The Sound, that’s two films in a row that are completely beneath the old legend). Sadly, director Furst’s background in Asylum tripe betrays him, as Cold Moon is blandly shot and directed, with no real tension or atmosphere to speak of, undermining the best efforts of the actors. This is a shame, as the potential was clearly there for something better – but if you’re after a great small town murder mystery with surreal and supernatural overtones, stick with Twin Peaks, and give Cold Moon a very wide berth.
Cold Moon is releaed to US theatres and VOD on 6th October, via Uncork’d Entertainment.