Directed by Anthony Leonardi III
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Urban legends have always fascinated me, especially those inextricably linked to specific places – be they large cities or little towns, wide open spaces or lonely stretches of road. The idea of creepy stories making the rounds by word of mouth, passed along from one storyteller to another down through the years, just makes the tale being told that much more special, at least to this writer. One of the more interesting urban legends I’ve managed to run across revolves around the actual town of Stull, Kansas.
It’s been said (since the 70s, apparently) that, in addition to the town possessing a gateway to Hell, the Devil will appear in the Stull graveyard on Halloween to visit his lost love, a witch buried somewhere in that cemetery. The legend of Stull has made appearances in pop culture a few times throughout the years, including its use as a plot device in a Turbulence sequel and as a climactic setting in the apocalyptic fifth season finale of “Supernatural” (it also inspired an Urge Overkill song in the early 90s). But curiously, there has never been a full-on horror film adaptation of the legend and all its creepy cinematic potential. And sadly, though the newly-released film Nothing Left to Fear is set in Stull, there still isn’t.
Nothing opens with husband and father Dan (Tupper) moving his wife Wendy (a top-billed Heche, who is given not much to do here), son Christopher (Cabassa), and daughters Rebecca (Brandes) and Mary (Stone) into Stull, as Dan has accepted the offer of being the town’s new pastor after its previous church leader Kingsman (Brown, great as always) has decided to move on to greener pastures. The family is welcomed to the town with open arms, even as a number of strange events and portentous signs begin to signal the possibility that something dark lurks within the heart of Stull (and – SPOILER ALERT – doesn’t really have a damned thing to do with the Devil, graveyards, or the gateway to Hell from the legend). Meanwhile, Rebecca begins having horrific nightmares even as she strikes up a friendship with fellow teenager Noah (Peck), a sweet if creepy young man who may know more about the town’s awful secret than he willing to reveal…
Why the filmmakers chose to set their tale within Stull, then disregard its enduring urban legend entirely in favor of creating their own dodgy mythology while painting most of the citizens of this real place as either cowards or dangerous fanatics is completely beyond me. That aside, the movie fails to live up to its potential by squandering its solid cast and beautiful photography with its rather dull script. The introduction to the characters and town is decent enough, and one can appreciate the character-driven approach the film takes even as it creates a sort of moody, atmospheric charm for its proceedings.
Unfortunately, its slow-burn approach quickly fizzles out and becomes a meandering mess, at least until the film’s threat reveals itself to our heroes in the final act and all hell breaks loose – though sadly, the increased pace in these final minutes are countered with some truly stupid decision-making by our characters (“Get back in the car, dammit!!!” and “Don’t forget your helpless brother!!!” might be things one could shout at the screen during the climax). It all leads up to a final twist and an ending moment that might have been satisfying, if only the preceding eighty minutes had managed to make any sort of impact.
It’s a shame, too. As mentioned, the actors all do a fine job (particularly Brown and Brandes, who is the film’s true lead), and there is some great lensing to appreciate throughout. In addition, the score by Nicholas O’Toole and Gun N’ Roses guitarist Slash (who also produced) is pretty great, alternately haunting and beautiful. Director Anthony Leonardi III seems to have done his best with the material, and appears to have a very good eye – one just hopes that his follow-up project will have a better foundation than this film did.
Anchor Bay has given Nothing a so-so release on Blu-ray and DVD. The image and sound are both quite good, though the disc comes up light as far as supplemental material goes. We get an audio commentary with Leonardi, Slash, and O’Toole, and a sixteen-minute making-of featurette. The commentary is a actually a decent listen, as the three contributors discuss the film’s making at length, while the featurette is a typical talking heads look at the film’s production. If you like the film, these extras will certainly be worth checking out. Otherwise…
It’s too bad this film didn’t entirely work. Aside from the good performances, cinematography, and music, the film ultimately wasted an opportunity to delve into an actual urban legend and tell a genuinely creepy tale. Instead, we’re left with a story that no one is likely to pass along to anyone else.
Nothing Left to Fear: Behind the Scenes
2 out of 5
1 1/2 out of 5