Seraphim Falls
Director: David Von Ancken

Director; Adrian Fulle

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Seraphim Falls Pierce Broson, looking mightily convincing as a mountain man, is seriously wounded by three men in pursuit, headed by Leem Neeson as Colonel Carver. So begins Seraphim Falls (2006), with the wounded Gideon hunted like a bear, framed in stunning cinematography (by Oscar winning cinematographer John Toll), believable costuming, & a fine cast.

Gruelling survival scenes tramp the edge of horror as our wounded hero strives to escape his mysterious pursuers & survive the frozen wilderness. It's like something out of a Jack London tale, "To Light a Fire" came most strikingly to mind. Pierce's character's heroism is outmatched only by his pathetic condition.

For the longest while we're not informed of the reason for this appalling hunt. It slowly becomes evident that it is not a legal posse after him. The Colonel doesn't want Gideon killed but would like him shot "in the extremeties only." Our sympathies are totally with Gideon, though we're left for the longeste while wondering if there could possibly be something so dark in the pursued man's history to justify Carver's pursuit.

Seraphim FallsAt a farmstead Gideon meets a well-armed girl (Angie Harmon) who stops him from stealing a horse. She & her baby brother (John Robinson) end up helping the weary injured man.

Even Gideon doesn't yet know why he's being pursued, until Carver corners him momentarily & says two words: "Seraphim Falls." It relates to the recent Civil War, or a horrific event that haunts both men, & for which Hayes blames Gideon with no capacity for forgiveness.

This is a superb film with gruesome moments of grotesquery. Other than the chase, there's not a lot of story. Flashbacks slowly convey the background of conflict for these two men, Carver the southern Colonel, Gideon the Yank -- heroes from opposite sides of America's most deadly war bar none.

Seraphim FallsBoth men were warriors among warriors, but while Gideon would leave war behind, Carver cannot let loose of blaming one man for all that he has lost.

At a waterhole Gideon meets an Indian (Wesley Snipes) whose behavior borders on that of a supernatural trickster. His character is named Charon, & in retrospect he would seem indeed the cthonic ferryman, & the little waterhole is the river Lethe.

In a film that has been ultra-realistic until this moment, we have our first hint of magic realism. Thereafter the film takes place on an increasingly symbolic level as the two men continue onward like maniacs trapped in a dream, across a haunted wasteland.

After Wes's appearance, there's a snake-oil saleswoman (Angelica Houston) who appears to each man like a tempting Lililth in the desert, with her colorful medicine wagon. She induces Gideon to trade his horse for a single bullet for the battle to come, & will have a similar bargain for the colonel.

Their path is toward Hell or Redemption, & before it's over, we'll understand that these two men are themselves elementals of some eternal conflict.

A beautiful film beginning to end, Seraphim Falls makes the transition from realism to mysticism with surprising ease. It is the best film of its kind since Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter (1973). Yet the director, David Von Ancken, has been wasting his extravagant talent directing episodic television. What an awful shame.

Given that nowadays western movies don't do all that well at the box office, the temptation to do one "cross genre" as a "weird western" is enormous.

Westerns may be dead weight in the current marketplace, but horror if done cheaply enough always makes its money back, for we the audience just never give up hope that the next direct-to-video piece of horsehocky won't won't be so bad. Thus so we give a hopeful try for such films as Blood Trail (1997); Legend of the Phantom Rider (2002); Renegade; aka, Blueberry (2004); or the unexpectedly rewarding Ravenous (1999).

Shiloh FallsWhen a magic realist western like Seraphim Falls works on so many levels, chiefly artistic, & still does no box office, then its back to the horror mills for no-budget direct-to-video cheeziness. And Shiloh Falls (2007) attempts to be both a B-western & a cheap horror shlocker without quite doing either thing well.

Dalton Taggart (Patrick Graves) joined his brother Wyatt (J. Marvin Campbell) in a highway robbery attempt for a payroll box. Pete (Forrest Witt) refused to open the box & in consequence got shot in the stomach. Pete's last words are, "Don't -- open -- it."

But it is opened & does not contain money. It contains magical objects & a demonic spirit which, unleashed, seemingly kills Wyatt.

Twenty years later, Dalton (now played older by Brad Greenquist) has broken out of prison with two other outlaws. He's convinced his companions there's a hidden payroll box still to be recovered. In reality Dalton's still haunted by the event of two decades earlier, & he's on a personal mission of vengeance against a demon, though in no way prepared for such an encounter.

John Gaffney (Gregory Littman) the Texas Ranger & his son/deputy Sam Gaffney (Jack Littman) are in pursuit. The kid would like to be a musician instead of a lawman, but Dad makes all the decisions, & won't have a poofter musician or ballet dancer or whatever hell kind of lame-ass dreamer for a son.

Oddly the script never quite recognizes John is a villain but kind of wants him to be simultaneously heroic & a close-minded dunderhead. 'Twould be my guess the awful screenwriter/director was just working out his own angst toward his dad, who perhaps didn't want his sissy son making direct-to-video garbage movies.

Dalton & his two gang members -- speech-impediment guy (Eric John Scialo) & black guy Snowflake, er, I mean Willy (John Myers) -- wander into a town that just ain't right. There are people in it, but the place doesn't really seem lived in.

Shiloh FallsThe general store is empty of produce. The saloon has no whiskey. And the people posed in sundry "western town" occupations seem more than a little zombified.

When things go awry it's Snowflake, I mean Willy, who dies first, as these filmmakers are still using the discredited first edition of Rules for Making Exploitation Films, rule number eighteen being black guys die first.

The ranger & his son arrive in the same town to arrest the two remaining outlaws. Dalton tries to tell Ranger John & his pet racoon Gloves, uhm, I mean his sissy son Sam, that the town ain't right. But Ranger John is thick as a brick & deaf to warnings. When they do try to leave Shiloh Falls, the haunted place will not let them go.

Soon they encounter two other people not yet zombified by the spooky town. Edward Jones (John Bader) & his daughter Mary (Ellie Araiza) improbably enough have been hiding here & there avoiding notice by the demon who rules the place. Sam & Mary start up a bit of a romance in the midst of the danger, like anyone watching this dawg cares about whether the sissy's straight or not.

The town's leader if that's the word for him is called "the collector." He's the unaged demon-possessed Wyatt. He's a devourer of souls, keeping the townsfolk alive even after their souls are sucked out by dippy bright-lights FX.

After sundry scenes of action & soul sucking, Sam figures out how to kill the demon, nothing to it really. The script demands that it has to wait until everyone else but Sam & the girl is dead, perhaps so they can repopulate the town, & their names were actually Adam & Eve.

You can see in this film an earnest desire to tell a thrilling story of the weird wild west. It's just that the people involved in making it really didn't have the wherewithall to create a quality film. One of the worst crutches to patch over a bad script is "the narrator" (voice of Dave Keffer not otherwise in the film) who explains everything that's happening scene by scene.

Apart from a discouragingly short cameo appearance by the always exciting Danny Trejo, the cast consists of unknowns, & only the overweight speech impediment outlaw comes close to being a well played character. Overall, Shiloh Falls is watchable, if barely so, & only if you're already used to watching dismal stuff & therefore immune to the shock of how talentless people can be & still make a movie.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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