A young woman named Larissa (Stephanie Ash), encounters an entity that transforms her into death itself, and rains a violent storm against Dallas Henson (Ry Barrett) and the family that resides there.
I really hate to start the review like this, but a wimpy sigh is...apt. This, opposite the reaction I had after viewing the official trailer for Gabriel Carrer's one-woman-show-of-a-horror-film, a trailer which brought back memories of my favorite Argento films, exuded the kind of vibes found in films born during the satanic panic era of the 1980's, and made me insanely giddy at the thought of losing myself to the promised, thick, atmosphere. I couldn't wait to view and review Death on Scenic Drive.
And then I did. And all the things I knew the film would deliver on, never materialized. So let me just cut right to the chase and say that, putting it lightly, this simply didn't do it for me at all. The sad part is that most of the major issues I had, could have easily been avoided with some tweaking, with some cuts, and with some tiny additions. To the first, the initial scares built upon the unseen could have worked fabulously. Hell, they were working in fact, but - and I'm not sure if this was a performance problem or miscommunication between actor and director - when the lead actress (Stephanie Ash) looks more bored or confused, rather than scared, you can't help but be taken out of the moment. Loud bumps, howling wind, whispers in the distance, satanic drawings, moving shadows...they're all there to set things up for some nasty heart-pounding scares, and all those things nullified by the look of disinterest. If Larissa doesn't buy it, how can I?
To the second issue, a couple of key scenes that - had they been cut down or removed - would have helped greatly with pacing and keeping the tension as high as possible - especially if coupled with a more convincing performance. The least offensive of these, was a very long investigative walk through the moonlit home in which the film's protagonist resides. Without spoiling the conclusion of the stroll itself, let's just say you're waiting far too long for something - anything - of significance to happen; and while a certain horror cliche is subverted, I'm not entirely sure it was worth the effort in doing so. But even still, I could live with that scene staying completely intact if I knew the next one I'm going to describe, would get the boot. This, this was the one most in need of being cut. A truly head-scratching moment if there was one. The scene in which Larissa, alone in the kitchen, is compelled or perhaps manipulated, to act...like...a dog?
Now, the lead-up to the moment wasn't bad, and in fact, was actually quite effective at giving me a case of the heebee jeebees. That is of course, until our possessed lead began panting, and crawling awkwardly on all fours, and even more awkwardly nudging and licking her - very confused - canine companion. Needless to say it was a very hard scene to watch, and other than reinforcing the notion that Larissa was losing her shit (a point that could have been made a million other ways), I'm not sure what effective purpose it really had.
And there's more. Quite a bit more. I was going to tackle the third issue I had with Death on Scenic drive, but halfway through my explanation of the second, I decided against it. Truthfully, what's the point anyway, droning on and on about my problems with the film when it's already been made clear how I feel about it as a whole; I'm not a fan. So instead, let me switch things up a bit, and end the review with some positives worth mentioning.
Scott McIntyre is a helluva cinematographer. Seriously, if there's was a chief positive to Scenic Drive, it would be how beautifully shot much of it was. Additionally, the artistic vision for the film's aesthetic was mostly on point - this being the main reason its trailer painted it with shades of Argento; at least to me anyway. And last, the experimental electronic sounding score that powered the ambiance of the film - the work by Starsky Partridge - was phenomenal. Think Disasterpeace in It Follows and you'll start to get the idea. Further on the bright side is the fact that my rather ho-hum negative sounding review, will probably sit alone, waaaay out on the fringe. As I understand it, most of the critical reception for Scenic Drive has been positive, so at the very least, if this happens to be the first review you've read, I urge you to at least read a couple more before making up your mind. Who knows, maybe I'm the crazy one, and you'll find the aforementioned dog scene to be a stroke of genius. Or not.
Link to rent (click the image), and trailer below.