By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.
Tennessee Gothic (2019), from writer-director Jeff Wedding and based on the short story “American Gothic” (1987) by Ray Russell, is an incredibly successful blend of comedy and horror. Though Wedding’s latest favors the latter, it uses the former to pepper the personality of the sufficiently developed characters and occasionally off-the-wall situations. Regardless, the jokes are never overdone or unnecessary (as is the case of many such genre hybrids). Additionally, these lighter instances are mostly reseved for the second act.
This is an effective move. It is one that helps make every one of the eighty-eight minutes of the undertaking unpredictable and entertaining. In so doing, Wedding crafts a wild ride of beautifully rendered terror and more hit than miss humor. Yet, what is most impressive is that, despite these naturally conflicting elements, the ominous tone is never broken.
Via his deftly structured screenplay, Wedding tells the tale of Sylvia (in a brilliant, commanding portrayal by Jackie Kelly which stands as one of the highlights of the production). After an act of violence, which is caught in the harrowing and well-done opening four minutes of the endeavor, she finds herself under the care of teenage Caleb (William Ryan Watson) and the widower Paw (Victor Hollingsworth). The joy the pair initially find in this new living situation on their farm, which is amplified by the reoccurring presence of Reverend Simms (Wynn Reichert), slowly turns nightmarish. This is in a manner that none of the aforementioned male leads could’ve possibly foreseen.
One of the smartest and most engaging moves in the picture is how well Wedding keeps a veil of mystery hovering over Sylvia. It is playfully hinted at and clues are teased addictively throughout the endeavor. All of these aforesaid bits are utilized in a fashion that constantly makes Wedding’s exercise evermore gripping. When the answer to such a question is exposed in the fantastic conclusion, it more than satisfies.
What is just is stunning is the gorgeous and colorful cinematography from Eric Stanze. It wonderfully captures the often earthy spirit of the narrative. The same can be said of the mood and atmosphere-appropriate music from Greg Bennett. Moreover, Watson, Hollingsworth and Reichert offer astounding turns. Christine Poythress is just as good in her enactment of Mrs. Simms. Jason Christ is excellent as Ronnie.
Furthermore, Wedding’s editing is strong. The special effects from Katie Groshong is superb. Trevor Williams’ visual effects are equally splendid. The makeup and sound department implement a magnificent contribution to the exercise. Wedding’s guidance of the project is stylish and stunning.
In turn, Wedding delivers an unforgettable modern take on folklore. Its themes branchout from said cultural body in a clever, credible and appealing fashion. Best of all, none of these touches feel as if they are an inorganic aspect of the plot. Such is a testament to both the quality of the storytelling at hand and the account itself. It is also a small part of the reason why Tennessee Gothic is spellbinding from the first frame to the last.