Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Clint Morris of October Coast for allowing me access to an online screener of the new Crime/Horror film “Cold Moon”, Written and Directed by Griff Furst (Ghost Shark and Swamp Shark). Cold Moon centers around the Larkin family, who have a rich history of Berry farming in a sleepy town in Florida, where suddenly tragedy strikes. Grandmother, Evelyn (played by Candy Clark “Cherry Falls” and “Twin Peaks”) and her grandson, Jerry (Chester Rushing “Stranger Things”) after little help from local authorities and Sheriff Ted Hale (played by Frank Whaley from “Vacancy”), are left to their own devices surrounding the disappearance of their loved one, Margaret (Sara Bellamy). They must race to decipher the meaning of the paranormal presence that’s consuming the town before the mysterious killer strikes again. The film also stars, Josh Stewart (The Collector), Rachele Brooke Smith (Atomic Shark), Jaiden Kaine (TV’s Luke Cage), Robbie Kay (TV’s Once Upon A Time) and Christopher Lloyd (Back To The Future). Furst started his acting career ten plus years ago. Appearing in films like “The Hitchhiker”, “Boa Vs Python” and “Transit”. More recently he’s popped up in “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Founder”. Even spending time on shows like “Treme” and “Banshee”. Although he first directing in 07, it’s only now that he’s started accumulating quite a resume through releases on the SyFy channel with films like “Swamp Shark”, “Ghost Shark” and “Lake Placid 3”. Cold Moon marks Griff’s return to the paranormal sub-genre for the first time since 2011’s “Mask Maker”.
I’ll be honest by saying that Cold Moon is perhaps the only film of Furst’s thus far, to potentially reach a wider audience when it’s finally released in limited theaters and on VOD (video on demand) on October 6th. SyFy does its bit by marketing to their core audience those low-budget creature features that I previously mentioned. Either you love them or you hate them. Okay, so that’s not necessarily true, there’s a lot of people out there that are indifferent when it comes to the cheese element. It’s important to know the film makers intent in order to best evaluate whether they’re the types of films you might like or not. The same could be said about the countless paranormal based flicks that line the shelves of the horror sections in any given store. Cold Moon is seemingly just another one of those examples, so I’m going to do my best to give the readers a constructive breakdown of what they’re in for. First and foremost, full credit must go to Casting Directors, Jaime Gallagher and Sara Wallace for their ability to get some genuinely talented people attached to Cold Moon. Despite its indicated budget of just over $3 million, signing stars like Lloyd, Whaley, Stewart, and even “Django Unchained’s” Laura Cayouette, is no mean feat. Your average movie-goer wouldn’t consider these actors to be of any great note (bar probably Lloyd, whose Doc Brown has now become permanently etched in the minds of audiences forever). However, for a cinephile like me, these are the caliber of actors I get the most out of watching.
It’s quite clear that Thomas Callaway’s thirty plus years of experience in cinematography gives Cold Moon most of its desired high production value. With over a hundred credits to his name and work in a number of different genres, Tom seems to have found his niche in the world of horror. Having shot films like “Smothered”, “The Wicked Within”, Buried Alive” and plenty of fan favorites like “Feast” and “Creepozoids”. He implements a series of nice gentle camera movements here. Utilizing tracking shots, wide shots and consistently good framing. The camera work is certainly the best technical facet of Cold Moon. The heavy reliance on bass in the score helped to generate the little suspense that there was. It was used to good effect but much too loud in the mix. Rachele Brooke Smith, who bears a striking resemblance to stunningly beautiful actress, Alexandra Daddario, certainly isn’t someone you’re likely to forget in a hurry. She’s bubbly and energetic from the moment she hits the screen, playing Belinda Hale, daughter of the Sheriff. Smith is gorgeous and sports a number of different outfits throughout the film, including a two piece bikini. Performance wise, she’s far and away the best actress but the southern accent feels a little heavy-handed at times. The underrated, Frank Whaley (a personal favourite of mine) turns in a rather reserved and uneventful performance, not that it’s not perfectly serviceable, but it’s just different from what we’re used to seeing. The visual effects team designed a few solid sequences, especially early on during a scene involving banker, Nathan Redfield (played by Stewart). He is driving home in his truck feeling a little dazed and confused when some frightening imagery confronts him. As the film wore on some of the CG wasn’t up to par though.
It’s not that often I find as many technical imperfections as I did in a film with this budget, and that’s before we even get to the storytelling aspect. There’s plenty of issues with the CG, lighting and most notably, the editing. Sometimes CG is warranted because it’s simply the only way to depict something that couldn’t be done practically. That being said, I have to draw the line at CG rain, that stuff is inexcusable (I’m 99 percent sure I saw it, if not I apologize but it sure as hell looked like it) Perhaps it might have just been a touch of Furst’s work with SyFy rearing its ugly head momentarily, I don’t know. What I do know is that Cold Moon is ultimately a paranormal orientated revenge film. Now, if I’m preparing for a creature feature marathon I’m expecting to see unnecessary CG water and high quantities of cheese, hell I’d even welcome it, but for this crew to not bother thinking outside the box to rig a water hose system up, or something similar somewhere in that 3 million dollars they spent, it’s just lazy lazy film making. A lot of the scenes are darkly presented, particularly those inside the cop station and the Redfield’s house. Griff had previously edited a number of his other films but with this one I think he might have lost a little perspective. The edit is often inconsistent and jarring. On one occasion the mysterious killer can be seen attacking and in the next frame his getting into his vehicle, there’s no transition or segue between shots. Another example, the opening act sees the disappearance of Margaret Larkin. Furst opts to intercut four or five times between scenes of her in a struggle with a hooded figure, and then shots of Evelyn and Jerry at the kitchen table followed by a surprise visit from Belinda. Trading locations in quick succession usually works fine if there’s a sense of tone, but the score idles between heavy bass and suspense blaring in the background while Margaret is being attacked, then to a Danny Elfman esq, quirky theme during a flirtatious moment between Belinda and Jerry, it just doesn’t fit the atmosphere. It’s funny, I didn’t pay the tagline “From the Writer of Beetlejuice” any mind until I realized much of the score sounded exactly like music from Tim Burton’s films. I love those films and scores but in the context of something like this, it fails on all levels.
A lot of the dialogue was dull, and in turn the pacing appeared to suffer overall. Making matters worse were the shortcomings in the specifics of the script (or maybe it was just that my attention span wavered). I find little things like setting the film in Florida but then shooting it in Louisiana, an unnecessary continuity issue when it comes to accents and such. In the greater scheme of things I understand it’s just a movie, but I’ve been to Florida, and they don’t talk with a heavy southern drawl like they do in Cold Moon. If you’re shooting in Louisiana just set the film there, it’s easier. Stewart, Smith and Clark are all guilty of over doing their accents and then you’ve got throw away performances like the wonderful Christopher Lloyd’s, where he has absolutely no accent to speak of. The one scene where he’s somewhat the focus, ends up being a complete waste because you can’t understand a single word he says. It’s kind of like Doc Brown doing a send up of Doc Brown, it’s painful to watch. The relationship between the Larkins wasn’t made clear initially. There was no exposition on the parents, I just assumed Evelyn was the mother but Jerry and Margaret didn’t remotely seem like siblings, it was all rather strange. There’s the odd continuity issue throughout the film as well, namely a line in which Evelyn says “Go, get out of here” (directed toward Sheriff Hale), yet when we hear the line Furst has already cut to an external shot of Hale by his patrol car, it’s bad timing. Unfortunately, Candy Clark’s performance was harsh and instantly forgettable. I’ve seen her do some solid work in the past but I think she found herself out of her depth in this role. The constant whaling of “Marrrrrrgggggaaaaarreeeetttt” is bound to be a talking point (though not her fault because of the script) as are the forced emotional reactions. Didn’t anyone think to raise a concern about the reactive performance while it was playing out on set? As the film drew to a close I had a lot of questions, but the answers probably wouldn’t have satisfied me regardless. What was the relevance of the sea snake, water snake (?? whatever the hell that thing was), What caused the paranormal behavior? What was the obscure vision all about? Why was he ultimately killing?
These days, and with so much content to get through, I try to avoid writing non-favorable reviews where possible. I understand a lot of time and effort goes into the film making process, but I owe an honest assessment to the work and try my damnedest to find the positives with the hope of helping creative types improve their craft (it’s all just personal opinion guys so don’t take this shit too seriously). Cold Moon feels like a mix of “The Wicked Within” and “The Ring” only it fails to deliver with any real conviction. There’s an impressive ensemble on display and the male performances are serviceable. Smith looks stunning and does her best to inject some life into her character, zesty to say the least. Callaway should be proud of his photography work, the bass orientated score was decent and certain moments in the visuals provide some much-needed life to proceedings. On the downside, most of the score feels out-of-place, the CG is either unnecessary or slowly declines in quality and Furst’s editing is untidy. I had no idea what purpose Christopher Lloyd served here and there were far too many sketchy details and unanswered questions by the time things came full circle. Griff showed his ace too early and killed almost all the suspense and Candy Clark’s performance was a disappointing struggle to endure. There are critics out there enjoying Cold Moon, so feel free to check out the trailer if you’re interested and you might find something in this one that I couldn’t. I’m hopeful Griff experiments with the horror genre again at some point and looks to improve the quality of his writing. I say bring on the next film from the SyFy channel, “Trailer Park Shark”. You can check out Cold Moon on October 6th.
My rating for “Cold Moon” is 3/10