A confounding script mishandled by inexperienced direction.
Frustration is more likely to occur watching Death Passage (originally Lemon Tree Passage, 2014) than chills. James Campbell's direction is a jumbled mixture of mystery, bewildering ghostly occurrences, and insufficient clarity to progress the story where it would have done the most good to build suspense instead of confusion. It's a ghost story loosely built around the Australian Lemon Tree Passage Ghost, but the ghost here has nothing to do with that other ghost, so you may wonder why they even bothered.
Once again, American tourists in Australia get into mischief. Of course, American tourists in horror movies always get into mischief and usually die horribly. In this movie, the mystery is whose death is fostering more death and why. Slasher film dynamics, urged on with a Grudge overlay, begin the victim pile up while the camera can't decide which one to focus on more--the slashing, the mystery, or the jumble of victimizations, familiar dialog, and murky flashbacks through it all. Given a pacing sensibility that would be more at home in the 1970s (or perhaps even a VHS shelf-warmer in the 1980s), there isn't much to engage the eye or the mind here, although the production is more than competent and the actors do provide the necessary energy, even if their characters are so much the worse from horror movie character-template wear and tear. More style, less muddle, now that would have greatly helped the storyline.
The muddling begins when American brother and sister Toby and Amelia (Tim Pocock and Pippa Black), and along-for-the-trip Maya (Jessica Tovey), befriend Aussies Geordie and Oscar (Tim Phillips and Andrew Ryan) at the beach. True to quick-scripting form, Geordie is the soft-spoken, sensitive type and Oscar is the loud, carefree sidekick who builds big dicks out of sand. Which, as we already know, is a great way to break the ice with American tourists. A quick round of cricket and some ghost storytelling by a bonfire ensues. The Lemon Tree Passage Ghost comes up and soon they are driving down that road to see its ghostly light. A flash of light does appear as they speed along the road, but that is all they, and we, see of that roadside ghost. It's the other ghost they pick up that commands the storyline from this point on.
What could have been a refreshing switcheroo is quickly not. Not enough sense or terror is generated as the mystery progresses but does not deepen. Maya starts flipping out from frenzied visions (shown in too much closeup motion) as she becomes possessed. Sam (Nicholas Gunn), Geordie's brother, is bedeviled by an unseen force. Maya's new found friends and fellow travelers start flipping out and eventually dying around her. (What, spoiler? This is a contemporary horror movie silly. Victims die; get over it). Sam's off on his own most of the time, dealing with his own nightmare. What is happening to Sam and to Maya is kept separate until most of the running time is spent, then slammed together for a quick denouement.
When the explanation for all this mayhem finally comes it is a letdown, leaving you with the feeling that too many rewrites had left it mostly stuck in the keyboard. One curious thing: aside from the overuse of fade to black scene shifts, a quick scene switch causes a bewildering how did that happen moment, with someone suddenly tied to a tree.
Now that was spooky.
A screening link was provided for this review, courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.