Capsule Review Film Review

'The Town That Dreaded Sundown' Toronto After Dark Capsule Review

October 24, 2014Ben MK


A couple pull their vehicle into a secluded wooded area, looking to steal some time alone together. A masked stranger emerges from the darkness, brandishing a large hunting knife. He orders the young lovers out of the car, forces the boy onto the ground, then repeatedly plunges the blade into his back, while the girl flees screaming into the night. It's the kind of scene that ought to be familiar to fans of the slasher genre, but this isn't just any old slasher film. This is The Town That Dreaded Sundown — 2014 edition — not a sequel, not a remake, but a metafictional homage, if you will.

The story unfolds in 2013 Texarkana — a unique little town straddling the Texas-Arkansas border — 67 years after a series of grisly slayings, committed by the so-called "Phantom Killer", gripped its citizens with fear and changed the town forever. The culprit was never caught, and the real-life crimes became the inspiration for the 1976 film of the same name, which the townsfolk screen annually on Halloween. This year, however, someone intends to commemorate the occasion like never before, by staging a whole new series of gruesome killings; and it's up to a local teen (Addison Timlin) — who herself narrowly escaped death at the hands of this copycat murderer — to unmask him and bring an end to this new wave of terror.

Aspiring for the film to be something more than your run-of-the-mill genre entry, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon takes a page out of Wes Craven's Scream playbook, bringing a sense of self-awareness to the project that helps to distinguish it from the usual fare. Still, the movie is at its best when it embraces the tropes. Its murder scenes stun with their swift ferocity and sheer brutality. The stylish, often slightly-askew, cinematography infuses every scene with foreboding dread. And pulse-pounding sound design will keep filmgoers on the edge of their seats. A skilled cast of familiar faces — including Veronica Cartwright, Gary Cole and Dennis O'Hare — is just the icing on the bloody cake. No sir, nothin' to dread here.

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