I tend to become a little giddy when Lawrence tells me that I'll be receiving a Wicked Pixel release in my next package. There's a good reason for that: their body of work is easily some of the best indie film I've ever thrown into my DVD player, from the lucid-dream experimentation of Ice From the Sun (review here) to the exploitative brutality of Scrapbook (review here) and the one-two punch of demonic dementia in the Savage Harvest movies.
Deadwood Park is the latest one in a long line of quality flicks, and it's a long time coming. Seeing as how Stanze's last full feature-length came out in 1999 with Scrapbook (if you don't count his co-direction with Robin Garrels on China White Serpentine in 2003), that's quite a span of time. However, the time spent is certainly reflected in the quality of the final film, which is easily the most polished and, surprisingly, accessible work that Wicked Pixel's done yet.
The accessibility part is certainly a surprise given the experimental nature of previous efforts. Deadwood Park certainly is a much different movie in tone, feel, and plot than anything they have done before. Whereas the previous WP efforts have been a savage assault on the eyes, ears, and mind, Deadwood Park is a slow-burning film, methodically paced and systematically executed.
Jacob (William Clifton, thankfully sans watermelon pinata) has returned to his childhood town of Eidolon's Crossing after almost thirty years of absence to do some soul searching. However, things soon start to go south for Jake as memories of the murder of his twin brother Francis in 1979 are still fresh in the minds of the townspeople. Despite the protests of Sheriff Cooper (an intense Bryan Lane), and with the assistance of the sheriff's daughter Olivia (the lovely Lindsey Dee Luscri), Jake starts to dig deeper into the town's history and the child killings that trace back sixty years to 1944. Is the long-dead Harold Everett truly the monster behind the murders? Why were virtually none of the bodies ever found? How does it tie into the long-closed Dogwood Park? With the help of Olivia and the coaxing of the ghostly children haunting his every waking moment, Jake desperately seeks the answers, even as more questions are raised.
All of this transpires in a town (spliced together from sites throughout the midwest and even PA) that has a mad life of its own. From the peeling paint in Jake's childhood home to the sadly gutted drive-in theater to the titular Deadwood Park, Eidolon's Crossing is a town that's diseased, forever trapped in its sordid past that it's trying so desperately to escape, yet is tragically unable to forget. The hardware store doesn't take credit cards. The police force is the lone sheriff. The nearest bank is one town over. This is a tiny, close-knit community straight out of a Stephen King novel (indeed, the flow of the film and its dark past reminded me at times of IT) who all seem to know far too well just what is going on, and their knowledge is what taints them, and their very town, to its core.
Of course, I'm not going to say just what that dirty little secret might be, but when they finally reveal just what's happening, you will be surprised. It's a twist that comes right outta nowhere, but the evidence is there to support it, so it all makes perfect sense. Each one of the film's many black-and-white flashbacks, ranging from 1944 to 1979, provides rich back story that gives the town and its secret a long, hard history. From important plot points (the grisly discovery of the first dead child) to incidental bits (a group of children trade tales of Harold Everett's devil worship), the viewer is given a peek into the past of Eidolon's Crossing to help us understand the mystery at hand. It lends the movie a much more substantial feel than Stanze's previous efforts, as this story has a history to it that's more than just mentioned in passing.
This is also Stanze's first feature shot in scope, and for a first-timer, he uses the extra frame space quite well. This is especially apparent in the many scenes set in the dilapidated amusement park, where trees stretch skyward from between scraps of roller coaster track and the skeletal frame of the ferris wheel looms over the town. It's a sight to be behold, to say the least.
Also worthy of mention is the top-notch acting job on the part of the entire cast. I've watched Bill Clifton in many roles, and none captured the brooding and haunted intensity that he infuses Jacob with. He expresses himself quite well with his eyes and his gestures, emoting with very little dialogue. Also of exceptional note is Bryan Lane, who manages to hint at a knowledge bubbling just beneath the surface, a man who knows too much, yet tries desperately to hide it. The rest of the cast, which consist primarily of bit players, are all very solid performers, from Luscri's turn as the pseudo-gumshoe/love interest Olivia all the way down to Jason Allen Wolfe as...well, that would be telling, now wouldn't it?
Being a bare bones screener disc, I was pleasantly surprised by the video and audio quality of the film. Colors were pleasantly muted with the occasional burst of garish color to liven things up. The black-and-white flashback sequences were especially crisp and clear, with no major issues of note. Audio was very well mixed, with the dialogue being mostly clear (although a few soft spots show up now and again) and the amazing score by Mario Viele swelling to just the point that it should. Extras include a trailer, and that's it! However, this far from a final release, so nothing's set in stone, obviously.
For more information, check out Wicked Pixel Cinema.