Buckout Road, in Westchester, New York – a town I’ll always think of as the home of the X-Men – evidently claims to be ‘the most haunted highway in America’. It’s revealing that the US has enough haunted roads for there to be a competition about whether Dead Man’s Curve is spookier than Route 666, whereas less car-obsessed, more cramped countries have to make do with mere haunted houses or hotels or woods.
Director Matthew Currie Holmes (previously an actor in things like Wrong Turn 2 and the remake of The Fog), who co-wrote this with Shahin Chandrasoma and Johnny Pascucci, establishes via a college lecture that this isn’t just a case of the road being haunted by, say, one phantom carriage but connecting a whole series of individual locales with their own specific legends and menaces – and, in a rare bit of self-reflection, to point out some of the ways myth must have grown up. One of the sites is where three accused witches were burned at the stake, though students investigating the road point out that this was never the punishment for witches in the Americas … and it turns out that genetics suggest it’s highly unlikely that a whole family of cannibals could carry the extremely rare gene for albinism.
Still, The Curse of Buckout Road (formerly Buckout Road) is a horror movie not a youtube debunking video so there has to be a real power in the evil road, manifesting as nightmare visions in the style of vintage horror movies (a pair of dolt twins even have a 1970s slasher movie dream with scratched film). The well-intentioned class project goes awry when the professor (Mayko Nguyen) who set the assignment is overcome by the curse, which means she goes from a nosebleed in a lecture hall to hanging herself from a tree by Buckout Road … which, in a slightly clunky fashion, brings in an interlinked set of characters with their own entwined backstory. Soldier Aaron Powell (Evan Ross), orphaned by an accident on the road, comes home to stay with his psychiatrist grandfather Dr Lawrence Powell (Danny Glover), who used to be a minister until he lost his faith when his daughter was killed. Cleo Harris (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), in therapy after the prof’s death, and Aaron have a little heat, and bond a bit over philosophical discussion, which feeds back into debate about what is actually going on with the road. Cleo’s cop father (Henry Czerny) is oddly aggressive and exasperated to have to go through all this again, suggesting recent unsolved mysteries to go with all the other lore of the road.
It’s an admirably thoughtful low-budget horror film, though it doesn’t quite pull off a finale that tries to tie all its disparate strands together and there are more than a few clunky bits between the more achieved, almost self-contained set-pieces. Colm Feore has a few scenes as a priest who further muddies the waters. British actress Provost-Chalkley, who started out in The Seasoning House and has had a recurring role on Wynonna Earp, gives the goth chick heroine a bit more depth than expected.