Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Cheat

FrightFest review – Cheat

Writer-directors Kevin Ignatius and Nick Psinakis craft an apparently standard ‘curse’ scenario – in Silvercreek, a small Pennsylvania college town, ghost girl Clara Miller (April Clark) visits death on the unfaithful in what appear to be a string of suicides – with uncommon skill and subtlety in Cheat.

Protagonist Maeve Johnson (Corin Clay) moves into a room vacated by a recent ‘suicide’ and becomes uneasily close to the dead girl’s father Charlie Walker (Michael Thyer) and best friend Lydia (Danielle Grotsky) – then drawn into investigating a mystery which goes back to the 19th century.  The curse becomes more personal when she sleeps with the married, grieving Charlie – and both of them wind up classified as cheats on Clara’s to-be-killed list … along, apparently, with most of the rest of the town, since definitions of fidelity have changed since Clara’s day and some folk sense that they’ve imperfectly understood the curse.  Clara is a familiar spook – a glum girl in a white dress – but has some eccentric traits – it’s suggested she disguises her killings as suicide because she doesn’t want to get caught – and visits troubling, ambiguous (but bloody) fates on her victims.

With its well-observed small town setting – at once folksy and chilly – and echoes of 1970s horror highlights like Messiah of Evil (referenced in a creepy cinema auditorium scene) and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Cheat has a rough-hewn, throwback feel but also taps into recent creepypasta urban legend variants.  It has shocks and scares and a nice gathering atmosphere of dread, but takes a lot of care with characters – all, of course, have to be cheats of some kind or other, and often act in an ill-advised manner, but they feel real, unpredictable and fresh, asking us to invest in the question of whether or not they deserve to die.  The plot follows the usual beats – awareness of the curse, preliminary victims, main characters under threat of death, attempts to end the supernatural reign of terror (Clara is a physical presence, which may be her weakness), and several more twists to follow.   I’d suspect the ending will be an ask for some audiences – it’s the kind of thing which prompts the literal-minded to put together ‘the end of Cheat – explained’ posts to satisfy search engine parameters – but it struck me as a perfect, unsettling note.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.



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