All horror movie fans, and general cinema fans, know that the floodgates were opened after the success of Scream in the latter half of the 1990s. From poster designs to opening act rug-pulls to the need for dollops of post-modern humour, it was hard to see any new horror movies at that time without seeing the influence of Scream. And there were a whole load of teen-pleasing slashers looking to replicate its success. I Know What You Did Last Summer was probably the strongest contender, but you can even look at examples as varied as Disturbing Behaviour (although it’s more of a riff on The Stepford Wives) and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. There was also Final Scream, Final Destination (a bodycount movie, if not a standard slasher), Urban Legend, Valentine, and Soul Survivors. I could go on, but I am sure you get the point. There seemed to be even more slasher films than ever before, even if nothing will ever match that early ’80s period. I am contextualizing here because Cherry Falls was another film released amidst the deluge, and it’s now often forgotten by all but discerning fans of the subgenre. Which is a great shame, because it’s arguably the best of the lot.
The plot is almost standard slasher movie stuff. A killer is carving up teenagers in a small town. There’s a sheriff (played by Michael Biehn), and the main female character that viewers become attached to is his daughter (Brittany Murphy). The big twist here is that the killer is specifically killing virgins. Which leads to a difficult choice for the parents of Cherry Falls; do they encourage their children to lose their innocence in order to stay alive, or do they try to keep them physically safe until the murderer is apprehended?
I have always enjoyed Cherry Falls, despite the fact that it’s far from a perfect movie. Director Geoffrey Wright and writer Ken Selden managed to create something that works as a slasher, works at subverting some basic slasher movie conventions, and works (sadly) today as a scathing commentary on rape culture and slut shaming. The fact that it does this with a balance of thrills and unconventional humour is a huge plus, but also perhaps what turned people off it when they were just looking for “the next Scream“. Gorehounds may be disappointed, censorship troubles led to a lot of footage being excised, but there’s still enough blood thrown around to ensure that this will never be mistaken for a family movie and the sharpness of the script and plotting compensates for the rather tame death scenes. I still hold out hope that we will one day receive a full, uncensored, cut of the movie, but it grows less likely with each passing year.
Murphy is at her very best here, playing a good girl who struggles between typical teenage experimentation and the responsibility of being the daughter of the sheriff. Biehn is very good as the protective father, and an upstanding member of the community. He’s also good at showing an anxiety and caginess as it becomes clear that there MAY be a connection to a secret in his past that he doesn’t want coming to light. Jay Mohr is also excellent, giving a performance that makes me wish he’d had more great roles to capitalise on, and other people providing support include Candy Clark, Gabriel Mann, Natalie Ramsey, and Michael Weston.
What doesn’t work? The interference of the censors, the soundtrack choices, and a red herring moment that never feels like more than just a red herring moment. And that’s about it, from my point of view anyway. If you watch the film and end up disagreeing with me then that’s no problem. I’ll just tell everyone that you’re wrong.
DIRECTOR: GEOFFREY WRIGHT
WRITER: KEN SELDEN
STARS: BRITTANY MURPHY, MICHAEL BIEHN, JAY MOHR, CANDY CLARK, GABRIEL MANN, NATALIE RAMSEY, MICHAEL WESTON
RUNTIME: 92 MINS APPROX
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