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New Release Review - The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Meta-sequel to the 1976 thriller of the same name.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Addison Timlin, Veronica Cartwright, Anthony Anderson, Gary Cole



"The many set-pieces involving the killer strutting his stuff must have looked great on paper, and are quite conceptually inventive, but Gomez-Rejon's showy (lack of) direction extinguish any potential suspense or tension."



In 1946, the town of Texarkana was terrorised for several weeks by a serial killer dubbed The Phantom Killer. Five residents were murdered, with another three injured, and the killer was neither identified or apprehended. 30 years later, low budget filmmaker Charles B Pierce, best known for his Bigfoot flick The Legend of Boggy Creek, dramatised the events in his lurid docudrama The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The film had something of a meta conclusion, resolving with the film itself being premiered in Texarkana.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's sequel/remake carries on in a similar postmodern vein. We're told that Pierce's movie is screened every Halloween at a Texarkana drive-in, despite the protests of some locals. We open on Halloween 2013, where high school couple Jami (Addison Timlin) and Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) are in attendance at the annual screening. Not a fan of the movie, Jami convinces Corey to leave, and he's quite happy to seize the opportunity to get her alone. They retire to a lonely stretch, where a masked stranger who appears to be dressed in the same manner as The Phantom Killer approaches their car. Corey is brutally murdered but Jami escapes. When the killer strikes again, the police forces of Texas and Arkansas combine to track down the mystery murderer.
The team behind this latest version of The Town That Dreaded Sundown were previously involved in the TV series American Horror Story, and unfortunately it shows. The movie suffers from the same flashy, distracting visual style of the TV show, all dutch angles, smash cuts and tracking shots that don't appear to have a coherent destination. The many set-pieces involving the killer strutting his stuff must have looked great on paper, and are quite conceptually inventive, but Gomez-Rejon's showy (lack of) direction extinguish any potential suspense or tension.
Timlin makes for a likeable heroine but her character, like the plot, suffers from some inconsistencies, chiefly in her poorly conceived romantic relationship with archivist Nick (Travis Trope). As the movie posits every character, Jami aside, as a potential suspect, they're all portrayed as creeps, Nick included. As such it's difficult to believe Jami would fall for him so easily. There's also some confusion as to Jami's age. We're told early on that her parents died seven years prior, but later she claims to have been eight years old when they died, which would bafflingly make her a mere 15!
The wasted potential here is staggering. With a bit more thought and effort, The Town That Dreaded Sundown could have been a rural companion to David Fincher's Zodiac. Instead it's a shoddily crafted Scream wannabe.




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