MOVIE REVIEW: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ALFONSO GOMEZ-REJON / SCREENPLAY: ROBERTO AGUIRRE-SACASA / STARRING: ADDISON TIMLIN, TRAVIS TOPE, VERONICA CARTWRIGHT, ANTHONY ANDERSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The newsreel’s a-flowing, the kids’re near on kissin’ and a seri’l killer stalks the highroad. Folks of a certain age might just recall the name, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, from a flick of some years since. Based ‘round the story of a man who walked the rows in Texarkana, this picture follows the thoughts and actions of a young lady named Jami as she finds herself supplicant to a sadist’s crime while trying to find herself some peace.
So far, so hokey. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s film is of a certain taste. On the one hand, the feature follows the anguish of real crime; its lingering camera stalks silent moments like nightmare voices hiding in the victim’s woes from the otherwise sun-kissed daylight. On the other hand, the feature ups the ante with quick cuts, arcing cams and pounding beats that’d make the most determined bogeyman dizzy all the while occasional in-scene music emphasises the fundamental reasons why good men do ridiculous, damaging things. This cinematic schizophrenia gets frustrating as it often feels as though the story is interrupted for the sake of checklist-ready set pieces. On the other hand, it does provide an effective window into a world where small-town mentality means people are just dying to be noticed.
Addison Timlin, as Jami, is the film’s core (and no, no Halloween candy for noticing the name). She’s oddly cast as the ‘weird’ girl because of her naturalistic beauty, hidden here under dark tresses. That said, it’s impossible not to empathise with her confusion, and while her dialogue is sometimes a little ‘last paper of term’, the inclusion of additional effects such as Michael Goi’s intense cinematography make it largely believable. It also helps that Travis Tope’s Nick brings up the rear as a befuddled beau who is more than he seems, and their scenes together contain an interesting connection that is a slight departure from genre norm.
As the title suggests, this is a film about a time out of time. It shows a fascination with true crime narratives and tries to be sensationalist and super-clever while also being understanding. As such, it masquerades as a slasher flick when it’s actually more like a drama. It repeats some tropes and yet challenges others in a heartbeat and may come out as a slightly non-committal political point-scoring exercise that ultimately doesn’t defend some of the characters it eulogises; a pretty and well-meaning but muddled, modernised half-homage by someone who may have watched too much MTV. Indeed, some of the more caricatured performances are emphasised repeatedly by shots so knowing you’d think it’d understand when to quit rather than throwing up yet another suspense-killing straw man.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown critiques the cult of the serial killer movie and gleefully enjoys their exploits. Its impressive detail will stand a lot of rewatching, both as vision and as context. The problem is with meta, that (while it can be better) sometimes it jus’ repeats.
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