In the blurb which accompanied the screener, The Anniversary at Shallow Creek openly declared that it pays homage to classic slasher horror: with so many films emerging in this day and age it’s as well to be aware of other, older works if filmmakers want to do something interesting in a ‘classic’ vein, so it was good to see this film declare as much. It has to be said though that, as the film started out with its Giles de Rais quote before heading straight into standard fare via misspelled opening credits, my hopes weren’t high. However, a protracted, familiar plot gives way to an interesting conclusion. The Anniversary at Shallow Creek is worth sticking with, and though there are moments when - if you’re like me - you’ll feel you can’t go on, hang on in there.
We certainly start out with recognisable stereotypes: first up, we meet a cutesy, horny couple hoping to enjoy a weekend to themselves. They have all the hallmarks of cannon (or crossbow, or rifle) fodder and a mask-wearing sniper evidently agrees, dispatching them both - all within the first five minutes! So much for them; we meet another cutesy, horny couple called Paige and Sam (played by real-life married couple Eric Fischer and Brianna Lee Johnson) who are about to get away for a weekend trip of their own, celebrating their anniversary at a family villa on the outskirts of LA. A brief comedy of errors later, a bunch of their friends have invited themselves along and off they all go, remarking along the way that the place is ‘isolated’. We’re also shown from the get-go that someone is watching them…
Our characters in place, our premise set up, the film settles into the sort of comfortable slasher predictability which Wes Craven satirised in Scream. Whatever you can reasonably expect from a film which declares itself "a clever update of the genre that never leads where the audience expects", the bulk of the action here is very formulaic - some young people with varying shades of romantic interest between them are killed off by an anonymous, omnipotent killer. There’s nothing in the script at this stage to suggest a self-referential turn and, although the film is wise enough to move with reasonable pace through lots of short takes, lots of filler dialogue is used before anything at all happens to our band of 18-30s. When something does happen, we all know what to expect there, too. An hour of this made it seem as though the film was beyond redemption.
Then, the film changes tack, and manages to redeem itself. It’s not a moment of pure genius, but it’s clever enough to regenerate interest.
You know what? This would actually have made a punchy short film. As it goes, the generic back story slams into a decent conclusion which comes nearly too late - a lot of the film which comes before it could have been condensed with no detriment to the final, effective scenes. After all, most of the characterisation occurs thanks to this late shift in pace and tone, so cutting down a lot of that early dialogue wouldn’t have damaged the film - it may even have helped maintain interest, an interest will almost certainly begin to slip in all but the most ardent slasher film fans (although actually, the self-same blurb informs me that this was rated PG-13 in the US, and even while I doubt it’ll get away with that in the UK, it should tell you that this is hardly a gorefest).
The Anniversary at Shallow Creek is in some ways a collision of 80s/90s and 90s/00s horror filmmaking styles all rolled into the same film - a progression from the too-familiar-to-frighten slasher through to an altogether crueller ultimatum such as we might have seen in Saw. This means it displays both the good and the not-so-good elements from these styles, but as long as you’re forgiving, it does enough to hold its own as a worthwhile horror film.
The screener (with its irritating intermittent ‘please don’t copy this disc’ text on screen) features a Behind the Scenes documentary, production interviews and a feature commentary. It’s a 1.78:1 anamorphic feature. The colour mix is decent and balances the colours both of the arid LA external shots and the cool interior shots well, whilst the sound levels were adequate and basically clear.
Review by Keri O’Shea
|Released by Vicious Circle Films, Breaking Glass Pictures|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|