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“THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN” (Movie Review)

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Blumhouse Productions and a few AMERICAN HORROR STORY alumni joined forces on the new “reimagining” of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, which proves to be both a bit of a sequel and a bit of a remake. Mostly, it’s a smartly written film that adds much-needed spark to a saturated market of endless movie rehashes.

The original 1976 TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN focused on the real-life Phantom Killer who plagued Texarkana, Texas in 1946. The new movie, going into limited release tomorrow from Orion Pictures, acknowledges both the original murders and the previous film, focusing on a town forced to live in the shadow of the factual deaths that occurred there as well as the dramatization of them. Thus, the film enters into the realm of super-meta, but rather than becoming confusing, it’s a clever blend of elements: the locals’ recollections of what really happened, news coverage, the previous feature, present-day events, and a fictionalized story of the murderer’s return.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s script focuses on Jami (Addison Timlin), who is just graduating from high school and confused about how to proceed with her life. She, like most of the town, lives in the shadow of both the original TOWN and the events it depicts. The film begins with one of the finest murder setpieces seen in years, as a new killer appears and subsequently torments Jami, slowly picking off her friends and loved ones. As the murderer begins communicating directly with Jami, she investigates further to uncover the villain’s identity.

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The new TOWN is infused with elements of the past; even the set decor and costuming give the feeling of an environment frozen in days long gone by. (At a Beyond Fest screening talkback, the filmmakers discussed about how they deliberately had the costumer extend everyone’s shirt collar by an inch or two in a subtle nod to ’70s style.) Though this approach is successful and effective in conveying the feeling of a town trapped in its own history, it may create confusion for less attentive viewers, who may wonder why a film in set in 2014 features costumes and sets evoking the ’70s.

Under director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and expert cinematographer Michael Goi, the film shines visually, the camera seamlessly moves back and forth across multiple time periods and types of media. Goi’s imagery makes the town seem idyllic, creating a soft, shimmering look of perpetual sundown. Goi has been visually unnerving folks on AMERICAN HORROR STORY for years, and his proficient navigating of the many different layers of storytelling weave the complicated backstory together with the modern-day slasher tropes. His TV upbringing does become slightly bothersome at moments, as the camera is in constant motion, always rotating, spinning, panning, etc.—standard for many TV shows, but far more conspicuous and visually frustrating when expanded to a big screen. The resulting dizzying effect may have been the intention, but it will also cause some audience members to flinch.

Though the scriptwriting and setup are intelligent overall, the plot somewhat falls apart in the third act. With such a well-thought-out and innovative lead-in, this reviewer was hoping for a final plot twist living up to them, but as is the case with many such films, the ultimate reveal of the killer is neither unexpected nor shocking. But despite this disappointing final blow, TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN is still well worth a visit.

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About the author
Rebekah McKendry
Rebekah McKendry is the Director of Marketing for Fangoria Entertainment, and additionally she is a college professor teaching classes focused on film history and horror films. She is also an award-winning filmmaker. She has Bachelor's Degrees in Film and English, a MA in Media Education, a MFA in Film, and she is currently completing her PhD in Media Theory focused on horror and exploitation cinema. She is especially passionate about grindhouse films, video nasties, and rare or lost titles.
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