by Jason Coffman
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Ever since Pan’s Labyrinth set the bar for “fairy tales for grown-ups,” it seems as though every other film with supernatural elements has latched onto the same hook. Most of these films bear little to no resemblance to that film or its peculiar powers— even those whose pedigrees seem closely related. I’m looking at you, The Orphanage. Unfortunately, the concept of the “adult fairy tale” has become more of a lazy marketing term than any indication of a film’s quality or content. So it’s initially frustrating to see the phrase “twisted fairy tale” appear in the marketing for Plague Town, and ultimately refreshing to see a film where at least the imagery lives up to the concept.
Doctor Jerry Monahan (David Lombard) is on what he had hoped to be a bonding vacation with his new wife Annette (Lindsay Goranson) and daughters Molly (Josslyn DeCrosta) and Jessica (Erica Rhodes). Unfortunately, Jessica is determined to make the trip as miserable as possible for her sister and new stepmom, and has dragged her spanking-new boyfriend Robin (James Warke) along for the trip. Jerry decides to take the family on a hike to some ruins in what appears to be the Middle of Nowhere, Ireland. After Jessica starts a fight and storms off with Robin, the family misses the last bus back to civilization and are left to find their own way. To make matters worse, the locals seem a little… odd.
Plague Town takes a while to ramp up, spending quite a bit of time with the bickering family before plunging them into some vaguely familiar danger. If anything, the film spends a bit too much time setting up the contentious family, and their characters aren’t nearly as interesting as the goings-on in the deep woods. The old story of the family lost in the wilderness dealing with demonic locals may be nothing new, but Plague Town provides a few twists that keep things from being too familiar: for one, the principal menace is a town’s worth of creepy, deformed children, the birth of whom is the plague of the film’s title. All of the children look different, but all of them are very unsettling, and there’s no question they’re a viable threat to anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.
The other factor that Plague Town has going for it above the typical “lost in the woods” film is its genuinely surreal atmosphere. First-time feature director David Gregory has crafted a uniquely unsettling experience, a careful mix of fleeting glimpses of terror, graphic violence, intimations of disturbing sexuality, and those primal “fairy tale” images. Most of the film takes place in dark, strange woods and small candlelit cottages, and some of the children wear masks to hide their deformities. It’s a powerful concoction that weaves a compelling spell, and is definitely worth a look for horror fans in the mood for a grim fairy tale— hold the moral(s).
Plague Town will be released by Dark Sky Films on DVD May 12th. Special features include featurettes on the making of the film and the sound design, a commentary with director David Gregory, and the original trailer.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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