1 Hr., 32 Mins.
Cherry Falls May 22, 2020
here is a serial killer on the loose in little Cherry Falls, Va. The murderer — who has wild and long black hair with a silver streak in it, who wears leather and combat boots, whom we long do not see the face of — is targeting local high-schoolers. Their modus operandi is pretty exacting, which is to partially say that it’s doubly scary for the student populace: anyone who is a virgin is a target. (How this antagonist is so omniscient
that they know to a T the sex-having statuses of the local teens is unclear — and still unclear even when the killer is unmasked.)
Though youths in spades are understandably wary of announcing to a broad audience that they haven’t had sex, the kids in Cherry Falls, Geoffrey Wright’s maligned-by-its-studio slasher flick from 2000, tuck away their social fears in a bid to save themselves. They choose to get organized. Early in the film, after about three students have, to paraphrase a cop character, been stabbed “a million times,” Cherry Falls high-schoolers organize a mass orgy at a run-down hunting lodge. They figure that once they’ve attended, they’ll have a sort of invisible force field around them and the evil will be defeated. “We’re talking hymen Holocaust here,” one character half-jokingly says to another.
This is a for the most part dumb conceit for a teen-slasher movie. It invites inferences, before we’ve watched it, that it will likely be an outmoded-for-its-time, ‘90s descendent of the Friday the 13th (1980) ripoffs that came out after the latter’s release, which tended to have an uncomfortably prurient interest in the sex lives of teens.
Turns out that Cherry Falls has been made with the more-recent Scream (1996) in mind. Even if its characters are trying on for size the behaviors of id-guided youngsters in low-budget ‘80s slashers, before they resort to histrionics they have (or at least try to have) a cynical sense of humor about the unbelievable stuff happening to their peers. The Cherry Falls equivalent of Scream's Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is Jody, who is played by Brittany Murphy with a precise kind of sensitivity that doesn’t undermine her sharpness. (Predictably, she has a closer connection to the killer than she realizes.)
I won't go too much out on a limb and say that Cherry Falls is a drop-everything sort of hidden gem. It doesn’t lean into its dark humor when it could most (e.g., its fairly campily-depicted villain), and the requisite stalk-and-slash sequences are relatively unimaginative. There are a lot of life-or-death chases with no real rhythm or stretched-to-its-limits suspense. (After Cherry Falls recurrently failed with the MPAA for a theatrical release, it was released on the USA Network as a $14 million TV movie — the first of its kind.) But when you look at it next to the other movies living inside the immediate post-Scream slasher milieu, from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) to Urban Legend (1998), it ranks high. It’s not the cold bath Scream was; it doesn't quite have the latter’s same then-unheard-of morbid wit and tickled-with-itself violence. But it isn’t entirely bubble-headed like the latter two honorable mentions, which counts for something.
Cherry Falls felt kind of like a balm when I saw it. I watched it for the first time the day after the governor of my state mandated that basically all businesses temporarily close or make new accommodations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This was also the day I was given the green light to work from home rather than from my office in Kirkland, Wash., at the time still best known for being an unofficial U.S. epicenter. (In the weeks since, the office has totally closed.) That Cherry Falls felt kind of like a balm isn’t to say that watching simulated murder happen is in itself relaxing. Instead I think it indicates that in times of trouble, where everything is so out of control that planning something even a week in advance seems misguided, the predictable structure of a slasher movie can surprisingly lend itself well to faraway-seeming, by-now comforting notions of a routine. I liked escaping into Cherry Falls. It efficiently deploys genre conventions; it also never really insults our intelligence. Especially these days, it seems particularly unthinkable to be chased down by a touchable force of evil and not an invisible, more and more ubiquitary one. B