I love horror movies, but they can be predictable. For every genre-bender like The Blair Witch Project or The Cabin In The Woods, there are dozens of low-budget indie horrors about sexually promiscuous young adults getting slaughtered by various masked men, monsters, demons, etc. Cold Moon begins like one of these movies before taking a sharp left turn into something more unique. It takes a common horror movie villain—the masked slasher—and asks what he would look like in the victim’s shoes.
The beginning of Cold Moon gets right to the point. Babylon, Florida is a small town where everyone knows each other. Margaret Larkin, a 16-year-old girl who lives on a blueberry farm with her brother and grandmother, is riding her bike home when a masked killer brutally murders her and throws her body into a river. Shortly after, a…ghost snake?…crawls into her mouth and resurrects her vengeful spirit (the mechanics of this are never really explained). For low-budget horror, these scenes have great special effects and a melancholy, dreadful atmosphere. It seems as though the audience is settled in for a good time of ghostly hauntings and snake-related injuries.
“…riding her bike home when a masked killer brutally murders her and throws her body into a river.”
But even as the filmmakers quickly establish this spooky premise, the rest of the first act drags its feet. Cold Moon is adapted from a novel, and writer/director Griff Furst does a less-than-stellar job of condensing the story into a tight screenplay. A novel can take its time introducing a huge cast of characters, but movies don’t have that luxury. Instead of slowly building tension and drama, Cold Moon hops around Babylon like a frenzied rabbit, showing us the Larkin family, the sheriff, the sheriff’s daughter, the town banker, the banker’s father, his caretaker, and the school principal. These introductions happen in little one-minute scenes that give us little more than the characters’ names and their occupations. We have no idea who we’re supposed to care about or why.
Another problem is the performances of Margaret’s grieving family. Chester Rushing (most famous as one of the bullies on Stranger Things) isn’t bad as Margaret’s brother Jerry, conveying an appropriate amount of angst at his sister’s death. However, he never gets enough characterization for us to care about him. He’s not particularly invested in finding out who killed Margaret. He’s sad and…that’s it. The bigger problem is Oscar nominee Candy Clark, who gives an unbearable performance as Margaret’s grandmother Evelyn. The best film performances are like pieces of music, with high and low notes, variances in tempo. Clark’s is entirely one-note: she screams her way through every scene she’s in, and it feels more like a caricature of grief than the real thing. It could have worked as high camp, but the rest of the movie’s serious tone makes it fall flat.
“…great special effects and a melancholy, dreadful atmosphere.”
Cold Moon gets much better when the focus shifts from the Larkin family to Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart). We find out that Nathan is Margaret’s killer early on, and Stewart aptly balances the character’s reptilian evil and buried feelings of guilt. When he’s not killing in cold blood or stealing people’s life savings, Nathan is hitting the bottle hard and trying to forget who he is. It’s a simmering performance of hate, greed, and loneliness. Nathan is a big break from tradition in the genre that gives us conscienceless killers like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees: what if these villains felt bad about what they did in their spare time? If Cold Moon has any kind of message, it’s that even the worst people are still human, and the sin hurts the sinner most of all.
But the movie isn’t too heavy-handed with this idea. Nathan’s guilt manifests in the ghosts of his victims, who chase him around Babylon in some exciting action scenes for the second half of the film. After Cold Moon’s rough beginning, these later parts have a schlocky, Crime-and-Punishment-meets-Final-Destination sort of vibe. Add in scenery chewing from Christopher Lloyd as Nathan Redfield’s father and some well-done jump scares, and you’ve got a solid, unique slice of horror. It’s too bad it takes so long to get there.
Cold Moon (2016) Directed by Griff Furst, Written by Griff Furst, Jack Snyder. Starring Josh Stewart, Candy Clark, Frank Whaley, Robbie Kay, and Christopher Lloyd.
5 out of 10 stars