Written and directed by Victor Salva
With an opening aerial shot of a tree-lined and manicured cul-de-sac besieged by braying dogs and the strobing lights of emergency vehicles, writer/director Victor Salva’s feature film Rosewood Lane immediately sets the stage that something isn’t right in the suburbs of America. Unfortunately, however, for this writer and a good portion of the Screamfest audience who with anticipation greeted the flick (it had its world premiere there on October 15th), we found during its subsequent running time that there isn’t much right with the film itself either.
Filmmaker Salva, whose previous writer/director credits include several genre films, most notably Clownhouse, Powder and the well received Jeepers Creepers series, here turns in his addition to the sub-genre of ‘evil next door’ flicks and has likened the intended tone of Rosewood Lane to John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. Delivering the story of radio talk show host and psychiatrist Doctor Sonny Blake (portrayed by Rose McGowan), who upon returning to her childhood home following the death of her alcoholic father finds herself beleaguered by local paperboy and sociopath Derek Barber (actor Daniel Ross Owens), Salva’s set-up certainly allows for plenty of creative leeway. Artistically the narrative roads available here are myriad, and given that the filmmaker first wrote the script nearly twenty years ago, one would hope that during the ensuing decades it would have been honed to a razor’s edge, or at the very least would attempt to introduce a villain even fractionally as memorable as the one in the flick Salva pays homage to (i.e., Halloween).
Paperboy Derek is no Michael Myers, however.
Herein lays the problem. Salva’s opus is supposed to be a horror film, yet comes across as if it were tooled as a Lifetime Network drama, and with the exception of McGowan’s rather unnerving face-to-face introduction to the paperboy (his newspaper subscription selling technique isn’t going to earn him any commissions, let’s put it that way), Rosewood Lane simply isn’t scary. As an audience we are to believe (as the residents of the titular community communicate) that the teen with the black eyes is truly a force to be feared, although his terror tactics simply fail to resonate. Case in point: The act of breaking into someone’s home to rearrange their collection of ceramic figurines may be unnerving to the one who endures such a personal invasion (as McGowan’s character suffers in the film), but as a plot point it doesn’t cinematically translate. The actress’ subsequent scripted and emotional reaction of “Don’t you see? The bear always goes on the left, and the ballerina always goes on the right!” thusly comes across as unintentionally funny, which clearly was not what Salva had in mind.
Other scripted methods of ‘terror’ as perpetuated by the paperboy include phone calls to McGowan in which he ominously recites to her… nursery rhymes. Thusly, the ‘thriller’ aspect intended never manifests either, although given such half-hearted methods of harassment, how could it? Masked killers wielding butcher knives tend to lend an audience anxiety; an adolescent glowering from the seat of his Schwinn? Not so much.
These moments and the script overall leave audience members scratching their collective heads as the film is rife with baffling plot turns, characters who consistently make the most illogical of decisions, abandoned sub-plots (and players), plot holes a’plenty and a second act sequence that betrays the third reel’s reveal (a reveal that ultimately makes little sense anyway); and while lead McGowan does her best with the material she’s been given, her acting prowess alone can’t buoy the proceedings. As for the supporting cast, which is comprised of the talented Lauren Vélez, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye and Lesley-Anne Down, they unfortunately aren’t given much to work with either, and subsequently their characters register as rather one-dimensional (actor Rance Howard is the one exception; he somehow fills his character’s boots with significant sand in the brief screen time he’s given as the neighborhood’s fearful historian).
While production values are good — cinematographer Don E. FauntLeRoy effectively sets the suburban tone, and film editor Ed Marx keeps things moving along briskly — Rosewood Lane struggles with its identity. Themes of child abuse permeate but are never adequately explored, and Salva seems to inject the film with a perplexing sensibility which does little to serve the narrative. A scene in which the impaled, subversive and unrepentant paperboy mockingly laughs at the Rockwell’ian residents of Rosewood Lane is perhaps telling, as is actor Sonny Marinelli’s espousing of “There’s no good or evil. There’s simply what can hurt you and what won’t. The rest is only opinion.” None of these moments do much to inform the characters’ depth or back-story, although as art reflects life, they may be intended to communicate something else. A scene of backyard cat-and-mouse which culminates in an ocular and rather bizarre ‘glory hole’ moment and the rumination on the judicial system’s outlook regarding minors’ legal culpability, too, do little to foment a compelling narrative, nor do they elicit audience empathy for the film’s principals, all whom exist in shades of grey and self-absorption.
Perhaps it is in these underpinnings that Rosewood Lane ultimately succeeds in being frightening.
1 out of 5