By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Cold Moon (2016), from co-writer-director Griff Furst, is an absolute joy to sit through and contemplate. This is for both the avid cinephile and fellow thriller fanatic. Based on Michael McDowell’s novel Cold Moon Over Babylon (1980), the eighty-eighty-minute venture has a delightfully unyielding, bleak atmosphere. It also exploits a simultaneously ominous and elegiac veneer. Such a look is much in the vein of a skillfully polished, yet appropriately gritty, piece of celluloid from the 1970’s–early 80’s. Additionally, there are subtle Hitchcockian touches delicately placed throughout the affair. Hitchcock’s immortal adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1960), my personal favorite work from the master of suspense, frequently came to mind. Furthermore, there is a tremendously executed sequence of death in the first ten minutes. It is so visually stunning and mesmerizing that one cannot help but draw comparisons to Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. This sentiment is held onto and echoed in many other similar moments throughout the arrangement. Likewise, the supernatural episodes that occur later in the configuration are handled just as deftly and effectively. A hypnotic scene in a graveyard near the one hour mark is surefire evidence of such an assessment. This previously mentioned bit also slyly brings forth a snake-like creature. This entity is reminiscent of an otherworldly beast spied in another ethereal masterpiece McDowell co-authored. Such is the Tim Burton helmed Beetlejuice (1988).
Correspondingly, Furst toys with gothic genre sensibilities in a manner that is worthy of an alignment to a Hammer Film Productions release from the 1960’s. The characters, most of whom are small-town archetypes, are wonderfully realized and credible. Jack Snyder, Furst and McDowell’s highly-intelligent, gorgeously mounted and impressively structured script, which is full of life-mirroring dialogue, remembers the cardinal rule of the most enduring scary stories. In so doing, Furst keeps the personalities on-screen at the forefront. All of this is worthy of top-tier praise and recommendation. Regardless, one of the most striking components on display is how our villain, when revealed, isn’t shone exclusively in a wholly loathsome light. This is an error far too many features highlight and proudly display in their protagonist. This is again another telltale aspect of Furst’s ability to allow audiences to understand the motivations and inner-mechanisms of even the most sinister of those who dominate the narrative.
Recorded in Louisiana, Furst chronicles a fatal tragedy in a southern municipality. It is one which interrupts the daily goings-on of the Larkins. While local law enforcement attempts to solve this murder, the victim returns as a ghostly presence. Albeit, one that is bent on serving up her own sense of post-death vengeance. This is to the individual responsible for her demise.
It’s a naturally intriguing concept. Such is one that Furst makes increasingly terrific. This is with his enigmatic and quietly unnerving treatment of the material. Even if the plot is familiar in hindsight, Furst avoids traditional trappings of dread at nearly every avenue. As the picture plays, it becomes gradually darker. Nonetheless, it also amplifies its inventiveness. But, it never loses its genre-mashing style and boldness.
Relatedly, Furst’s opus never becomes desperate to augment or cheaply punctuate its scares with unnecessary jumps. Because of this, Furst establishes a perfect symmetry of plot and organically erected instances of fear. The endeavor could easily have become overblown. This is especially true of the finale. Instead, the exercise utilizes this aforesaid balance to grand consequence. This is until the eye-popping imagery which commences the concluding credits is spied. The saga also ends on a perfect note. It is one that brings about as many questions as it does answers.
What also adds to the sheer brilliance of the demonstration is the all-around exceptional performances. Christopher Lloyd steals the show as the wheelchair-bound James Redfield. Candy Clark as Evelyn and Chester Rushing as Jerry Larkin are both captivating. They fit comfortably into their roles. This is while making them distinct. Madison Wolfe as Mandy, Josh Stewart as Nathan Redfield and Laura Cayouette as Ginny Darrish are also magnificent.
The movie also benefits from Thomas L. Callaway’s astonishing, mood-laced cinematography. Furst’s editing is seamless. His overall guidance of the project is inspired. It is also refined and mature. This can also be said of Nathan Furst’s haunting, proficient and remarkable original music. The effects, make-up and sound are spectacular. Jayme Bohn’s costume design is superb.
Furst has crafted a brilliant effort. It is an astonishing exhibition of the strongest attributes of both the categories of crime, drama and paranormal revenge. The no-nonsense excursion is also layered, full of dimension and insight. It wraps bystanders up in its mysteries and memorable terrors from the first frame to the last. Having not read McDowell’s source literature, I cannot state if it is faithful to the original telling of the Florida-set endeavor. Yet, I can declare with complete certainty that the labor stands triumphantly on its own merits as one of the best white-knuckle shockers I’ve witnessed all year. I highly recommend checking out Cold Moon. It will be distributed in theaters and on video on demand October 6th, 2017 through Uncork’d Entertainment.