With southern Gothic tragedy trappings and the tension-filled tone of a good old-fashioned ghost mystery, Cassadaga focuses on the haunting of Lilly (Kelen Coleman), an art teacher who, devastated by the accidental death of her younger sister and ward (Sarah Sculco), takes refuge at the antebellum ancestral home in Florida's "most-haunted" community (Cassadaga, actually does exist and is so-dubbed). As Lilly deals with her grief through the oppressive silence — she is deaf — spirits begin to speak to her in the kind of sign language anyone could read. And what they're saying is: We're gonna fuck you up!
It takes awhile to get to that point, though. Cassadaga is a slow burn, picking up most strongly at the point of a spooky séance scene where, while hoping to connect with her departed sister, Lilly's medium attracts the violent apparition of a murder victim. Suddenly the young woman and her new beau, Mike (Kevin Alejandro), are drawn into the quicksand of a still-active local serial killer nicknamed in the press as "Gepetto" after the famed fictional puppeteer.
Creepy as Pinocchio is… Cassadaga is no Disney flick! Director Anthony DiBlassi spares no one in his depiction of the torturous slayings, which take place over several days as the fixated psychopath takes his victim apart and replaces her limbs with doll parts. (In fact, this film was somewhat reminiscent at times of Karen Lam's short horror Doll Parts, and also the amazing 2010 episode of the TV series Fringe, entitled Marionette.) While the scenes are quite squirm-inducing, they move more along the currents of Silence of the Lambs than, say, Hostel 2.
While I did thoroughly enjoy Cassadaga, I will say I had a few issues with it. There are too many characters and subplots (giallo'esque, yes; but without the stylistic aspects). Some actors, while absolutely apt, seem to be shoehorned in (love Louise Fletcher, but most of the scenes with her a superfluous as there isn't a payoff to them). Googly-eyed romantic subplot only serves to slow. The device of having Lily be deaf is fine (ala The Silence) but the actress, who isn't deaf, can't maintain the allusion flawlessly (it's understandable Lilly can speak with fluency, given the fact she lost her hearing as a girl; but sometimes Coleman seems to be able to 'hear' what her friends are saying even when she's not reading their lips). I liked the story of Gepetto, and would rather have had more focus on the dynamic between the ghosts, Lilly and him. But I didn't make the movie. DiBlassi & co., did, so I defer to their choices.
Excellent choices were made with the crew, particularly in cinematography, score and production design (Jose Zambrano Cassella, Dani Donadi and Nicole Balzarini, respectively). Cassagada looks and sounds first class, all the way. While there isn't the sustained level of suspense DiBlassi's first feature (Dread) had, it's a pleasure to witness his growing talent and command of the genre. As I said in my review of Dread... Can't wait to see what DiBlassi does next.
= = =
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson