Director-writer-star Steven Grayhm puts a novel’s worth of stuff into his debut feature as a triple threat.
An opening caption offers deep history about the Sinchanee tribe (who were reputed to be disease-resistant), early settlers, the French and Indians War, and a ‘pagan cult’ determined to wipe out the bloodline. Then it’s 1995 and a kid apparently witnesses the murder of his sister and mother by a wandering hiker in the woods, which understandably drives his father mad – though there’s a mystic angle in that the boy is escorted across town in subzero conditions by what sounds awfully like a Magic Indian. Then, it’s close to the present day – the assumption that most contemporary-set films take place in the ‘now’ has taken a massive battering these last few years – and cop Carrie Donovan (Tamara Austin), who has left Boston for the backwoods with her daughter Ava (Laila Lockhart Kraner), has to work a case with her estranged big city homicide dick husband Drew Carter (Nate Boyer) in which another daughter and mother have been killed and have strange scratches/carvings on their bodies. Meanwhile, the kid from 1995 is now sulky, depressed Will Stark (Grayhm), still haunted by the bad stuff and stuck with a hard-to-sell crime scene home after the recent suicide of his father.
The film runs nearly two hours, and it takes a while for all the elements to come together, with several mysterious characters drifting in and out in various guises, a lot of suspicion directed at Will, creepy figures crawling about indistinctly in the background while characters project angst in sharp focus in the foreground, several more murders, much blue-collar gloom, drawn-out unhappy families business, and a general air that whatever any given scene is about the film is reaching for something else. Solomon Goodblood (Rudy Reyes), that mystery Native American shows up later in the day, and reiterates an explanation we’ve just about pieced together – though the villains, who feel a bit like refugees from a lost season of An American Horror Story, are an all-bad-things bunch who dress up in bark and skins and wield cutting implements, intent (for reasons obscure) on killing mothers and daughters to wipe out the Sinchanee – at the behest of a ticked-off Native American evil spirit called Atlantow – but also given to manipulating hopeless feebs into doing their hack and slash for them.
I didn’t quite get what the Pagans had against the Sinchanee and why they were in thrall to a spirit from Sinchanee legend, but the film seems more intent on fractured families than the original sins of colonisers. It’s on the lumpy side in its plotting – even when it defaults to familiar business like the estranged couple reuniting to search for their missing and imperilled daughter or the coda that suggests the curse carries on – but has a good look, is mostly well-acted and covers a lot of ground.