Review: Cassadaga

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…  A deaf art teacher is wrecked by the death of her younger sister and moves to a small town called Cassadaga to deal with her grief.  There, she finds a murder mystery involving a young woman who lived in the same guest house in which she now resides, and, following a psychic reading, is haunted by visions supplied by the ghost of the former tenant.  What she learns of this serial killer places her in his crosshairs and she must learn his identity before she becomes the next victim.

Cassadaga does not boast the most unique of concepts, and the plot, on its surface, feels like a retread of old giallo films of yesteryear.  This film, however, leans into the more supernatural elements of its plot, rather than the more slasher-y turns, depositing Cassadaga more into the ‘supernatural thriller’ category than in the serial killer genre.  It also helps that the movie concentrates very heavily on its characters, especially its lead, Lily (Kelen Coleman), who is given a nicely tragic back story and a reason to root for her survival.  Despite the fact that her character is hearing impaired, the script never presents her as hamstrung by her disability, choosing instead to portray a character that is strong and motivated by her grief rather than decimated by it.   Sure, director Anthony DiBlasi, who helmed the very good Clive Barker adaptation Dread, doesn’t miss an opportunity to use Lily’s hearing loss to crank up the tension in a scene or two, but it’s not a character defined by this handicap, which was refreshing to see.

Her new paramour Mike (True Blood‘s Kevin Alejandro) is likewise given some nice character beats as a divorcee struggling to win a custody battle with his ex-wife.  While he is, at first, reluctant to accept the supernatural goings-on, when he’s presented with tangible proof he is on board to help Lily resolve her terrifying visions.  I always respect a movie where a character can change his or her mind in the face of proof, rather than adhering to the old ‘doubting Thomas’ trope for the duration of the film.  A very good scene in which Mike keeps watch as Lily investigates the bedroom of the strange son of her landlady gives us a moment of true thrills as two completely competent characters struggle to find the truth.

In fact, the best part of Cassadaga is that it treats its characters and audience with a degree of respect that is missing from many genre films.  And yet…  I find I like this movie, but I wanted to like it more.  The serial killer in the film, who creates grotesque puppets of his victims, is used as the central mystery of the film, but its not hard to sniff out very quickly who our killer is.  There are some bizarre aspects to his kidnapping technique that are not fully explained, beyond the notion that he has some eerie powers like many seem to in this town.  Some lip service is given to the high number of psychically active people in Cassadaga, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more attention paid to the killer’s apparent psychic ability, which is difficult considering the pains taken to hide his identity.

There are a number of scenes that we’ve seen done elsewhere, especially in the visions Lily experiences following the oft-sudden appearances of the ghost that haunts her, and Cassadaga feels like a greatest hits of other movies, only with better characterization.  It’s greatest flaw lies in its familiarity, other than the honest depictions of its characters and their relationships.

I would tentatively recommend the film more for its characters and its solid, though familiar, story than for the horrific aspects of the film.  Still, it’s well-acted and well-directed, with some tense scenes peppered throughout.  I wish it had been braver in some of its story decisions, especially in regard to the killer, but Cassadaga is still a good pick for those viewers who want a little brain with their blood.