From the Writer of Beetlejuice & the Nightmare Before Christmas... A Chilling Tale of Supernatural Vengeance
Michael McDowell (novel)
Jack Snyder (co-writer)
I’ve not read the novel Cold Moon over Babylon, by Michael McDowell (the writer of such films as Beetlejuice and A Nightmare Before Christmas), so I can’t compare his original words with this mess of a film adaptation from Griff Furst. But in my defense, there are plenty of films I would consider quality – which were adaptations which I had not read ahead of time, so I can’t be faulted on my end.
The film had its North American premiere at this year’s Shriekfest, and despite a few good things, the film is mostly notable for its unclear direction and meandering story.
Cold Moon feels like a lesser version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It never reaches the heights of that moody Eastwood film, but I feel as though it got some of the Southern/good ol’ boy atmosphere right. It’s a mystery about a small southern town called Babylon – where a brutal murder takes place, followed by the return of a vengeful spirit.
It’s meant to take place in 1989, and I didn’t see any obvious missteps (cell phones, current vehicles and improper costumes), but it doesn’t quite offer a proper feeling of that era. Perhaps it’s in the lighting or the color – but it doesn’t feel like an ‘80s film, and if you’re going to attempt to transport your audience back to that colorful and nostalgic time, it needs to feel like we’re there – proper props, automobiles and costumes just aren’t enough. And Cold Moon misses that mark.
Performances are not bad. Candy Clark (of Chuck Russell’s The Blob remake in 1988) plays Grandma Evelyn Larkin and while most of her time is spent in hysterics and some sort of pre-dementia paranoia, she’s able to sell it, if alas, she teeters on the edge of over-the-top. But since we’ve all seen Clark’s previous work (I’ve always enjoyed her acting), I have to fault the filmmakers here with not helping her find the proper nuance (at least not all of the time). Clark actually excels as Grandma in her happier moments – bonding with her grandchildren and enjoying her golden years. And her best high emotion moment comes when the gruesome discovery under a nearby bridge – really sets things into motion. It’s not the best work of her long career, but she’s a welcome character actor in any project. I’m a Candy Clark fan.
You’ll recognize plenty of other actors – Chester Rushing of this year’s Stranger Things phenomenon, character actor Frank Whaley (Pulp Fiction), Josh Stewart of The Collector and the legendary man behind “Doc Brown” of the Back to the Future series – Christopher Lloyd.
Lloyd chews the scenery pretty hardcore, as James Redfield; the stereotypical rich old man in this small town, playing up the fact that he’s apparently had a stroke in the past. He’s got perhaps three scenes in the entire film, none of which offer him much to do. So despite his inherent and legendary talents – he’s kind of wasted here.
And then there are the truly insurmountable problems presented by Cold Moon. It is all over the place, but let’s start with its painful and unsuccessful shift in protagonist.
There’s only one film I can think of, which successfully switches the person with whom the audience should sympathize, and that is from the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Of course I’m talking about Psycho, where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is established early on as our entry into the story. But of course, we know what happens to her within the first act. We then follow Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) for most of the rest of the film – and it works like a charm. The same cannot be said for Cold Moon. We get to know the Larkin family – Grandma and her two grandkids, but once tragedy strikes, we’re let in on the identity of the killer (rather unceremoniously) and the film takes on his story. It feels sloppy, and doesn’t work, especially since we’re never totally invested in the Larkin family to begin with – so the turn-over leaves the audience grasping at straws – “who are we supposed to root for here?” Certainly not our new protagonist/antagonist – he’s a cold-blooded murderer! And despite his potential “Norman Bates-ness”, he has no particular quirks or idiosyncrasies – certainly no sympathies to draw in the audience – to properly engage us for the remaining one hour of the film. If the film follows the novel closely, I’d be interested to see how this transition is accomplished. I’m assuming it’s much easier to pull such a “fast one” in prose, as compared to a short 100 minute film.
But does the film inspire any confidence or intrigue into me – for a potential follow-up/read of the book? No.
The film feels like it should be a mystery. It sets it all up nicely, and we get clues and insights into the townspeople and possible motives, etc., but the aforementioned discussion of a protagonist shift – throws all of that potential intrigue into a shallow river filled with dead bodies. I just get the feeling that the filmmakers were unclear on how they wanted to present the piece. I don’t have suggestions to offer, but I know from the audience perspective, the film is uneven and not at all engaging.
There were a couple of nifty visual effects – the ghostly girl riding around on her bike – where the bike is not actually present. So her jerky “bike-riding” movements are extra creepy.
There’s also an overly-long sequence in a cemetery, where the killer is bombarded by ghosts, exploding coffins and even some sort of Beetlejuice-esque snake creature – and once it’s over, you’ll be wondering, “What the heck was that?” It just doesn’t feel organic to the story and comes off as a chance for the visual effects artists to have a field day and tout their wares – not move the story along.
With serviceable to good performances, an extremely wishy-washy story/script and an overall uninspired pace, I can’t recommend Cold Moon. It’s just not good.
Cold Moon is scheduled for release on October 27th.