June Martin (Meredith Garretson) has been in and out of psychiatric institutions for ten years, undergoing ECT and expressing her PTSD through disturbing artwork, because a) her sister Willow (Makenna Weybourne) drowned under mysterious circumstances in the lake near their childhood home and b) their mother Tammy (Wylie Small) blamed June for Willow’s death and cut her out of her life. Now, Tammy is dying – still chain-smoking and coughing and idealising the dead daughter while rejecting and abusing the live one – and June comes back to town with her patient girlfriend Maeve (Paulina Bugembe) to sit the death-watch … though she turns up just as another kid drowns, resurrecting stories about a masked presence clutching a corn dolly who seems to have been luring folk to their doom for well over a century.
June relapses into mania, and hares around town trying to solve a mystery no one else wants to get to the bottom of – one strength of the film is that we tumble well before she does, and then get all sorts of evidence as to what happened but no tiresome explanatory speech with flashback. If you suspected that white people were responsible, you’d not be wrong. This trots out one of the hoariest clichés of filmmaking — that whenever there’s a TV set turned on a room you hear war whoops and shots because a Western about the Indian wars is playing – and uses it to set up two of this comparatively quiet film’s big shocks. Director Beau Ballinger, who co-wrote with Karen Skloss, revisits one of America’s primal sins to account for this vengeful Sadako type – Ahyoka (Dayana Morales). Incidentally, this offers a rare accurate take on a frequent horror trope: there’s no Indian graveyard to build the town on, because the Indians were disappeared and have no graves – unless you presume the whole country is haunted because it was built on blood-drenched land.
There’s more going on than just the mystery, as the film offers studies in grief, loss and PTSD – with affecting business about a fractured family and survivor guilt. In its tone and its theme, it’d make an interesting companion piece to another FrightFest selection this year, Slapface, though bizarrely they were programmed against each other. It’s a little light on the chills, investing more horror in the uncomfortable-verging-on-intolerable situation in the protagonist’s house than the spectre in the woods. That said, the last reel offers a heroic sacrifice, a gruesome revenge, and a haunting resolution.