Studio: Viva Pictures
Director: Teo Konuralp
Writer: Jesse Reffsin
Producer: Richard Tucci
Stars: Laura Flannery, James Cavlo, Nikita Ramsey, Jade Ramsey, Clemmie Dugdale, Harry Hains, Christopher Crema, Jennifer Dorogi, Dendrie Taylor
A troubled college student must return to her haunted hometown when her murderous aunt comes back from the dead as a ghost.
A trivial tidbit about Culture Crypt: Of the 1,300+ feature film reviews published to date, my review of “A Haunting at Silver Falls” from June 2013 (found here) remains one of the top ten most viewed pieces of content. Hits total in the top half of five figures, which is high for DTV indie coverage. I’d like to think that’s because my critique is so entertaining, insightful, or well composed that it can be considered “must read” material in regards to the movie. (It’s not. That review was written when this site was just three months old and it reflects every pound of greenness being carried at the time.)
In actuality, I believe that page is popular because the film’s “inspired by true events” claim prompts people to investigate what those “true events” supposedly are. Probably because I reference those words, Google ranks my review third when someone searches for “haunting at silver falls true story,” so clicks come courtesy of everyone expecting explanations I don’t discuss. (For the record, the “true story” is limited to twins who really were murdered, although everything regarding ghosts, curses, and surprise serial killers in a family tree is of course made up.)
Even though the movie isn’t good, which is phrasing it charitably, “A Haunting at Silver Falls” holds a special place with me for helping attract an audience during Culture Crypt’s infancy. And even though I’ve since moved away from frequenting the vein of VOD vapidity that spawns such hit-and-run fright flicks, my unusual association with the first film made me feel oddly obliged to review its sequel too.
“A Haunting at Silver Falls 2,” as it was once named before substituting its number for new subtitle “The Return,” announced in late 2016 that production would begin that December. By February the following year, stills circulated via press release, confirming principal photography was underway while indicating the film would seek distribution at upcoming film markets.
Incidentally, that same press release claimed “A Haunting at Silver Falls” “gained an extensive online fan base from teenage bloggers,” whatever that means. Seems more likely those “bloggers” were the same people hitting Culture Crypt looking to dig up dirt on the “true story” myth.
Naturally, it’s not a good sign when a small horror movie finishes filming, but doesn’t release until over two years later, which would be June 2019 for “A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return.” Also not a good sign? Nearly none of the key creators or talent coming back for the follow-up.
“Return” is what director Brett Donowho, the three original writers, and lead actress Alix Elizabeth Glitter don’t do for this sequel. Directing only his second feature and first film since 2002, Teo Konuralp takes over for Donowho. For his first produced screenplay, writer Jesse Reffsin supplies the story. And Laura Flannery assumes the role of central character Jordan from Glitter, who seems to still be in the business, but presumably couldn’t be bothered or wasn’t invited to do another round in this rodeo.
Sisters Nikita and Jade Ramsey return as twins Holly and Heather. Since they’re playing ghosts in heavy makeup shot with music video skip frames, they could be anyone and it wouldn’t matter. That leaves James Cavlo, reprising his role as Jordan’s doting dork boyfriend Larry, as the only meaningful connective tissue to the original.
Because six years passed, and being that the movie wasn’t memorable to begin with, I confess I recalled very little about “A Haunting at Silver Falls.” Thankfully, the recap I wrote in 2013 filled in vague blanks. If the first film isn’t fresh in your head either, I recommend a refresher of some sort. Otherwise, newcomers can get the gist thanks to the story’s generic genesis, although you’ll care even less about who connects with which prior events and so forth.
Add veteran character actor Erick Avari to the list of those sitting out a second trip to Silver Falls. The script sidesteps this inconvenience by basically keeping Avari’s Dr. Parrish character, but recasting him as a woman and explaining the swap as, “this is that Dr. Parrish’s ex-wife.”
I don’t know what she did, but “A Haunting at Silver Falls: The Return” doesn’t regard actress Dendrie Taylor highly as the new doc. Taylor features either first or second in terms of screen time, yet doesn’t receive a title card and has her first name misspelled as “Denrie” in end credits. That probably indicates the film’s overall disregard for detail more than anything.
Jordan and Larry got out of Dodge after the first film and have been away at college ever since. Back home, Nu Dr. Parrish runs the ridiculously named ‘Silver Falls Institute for Occult Study,’ which treats only two patients. Nightmarish visions of ghostly twins plague one of the two. The other inmate, Jack, is about to become Renfield to an evil entity when Jordan’s dead aunt Anne, previously revealed as the twins’ true murderer, returns to wreak havoc as a ghost.
Jordan reluctantly comes back to Silver Falls after Jack kidnaps Larry to use as bait in Anne’s revenge plot. What is Anne’s aim? It’s just to kill Jordan, although Anne goes about it in convoluted fashion like only a formulaic film can. Dr. Parrish, Jordan’s roommate whose name has already evaporated, and a dimwit classmate join the journey to various degrees as “AHASF: The Return” constructs dusty dullness from clichés including a remote cabin in the woods, a sheriff dismissive of supernatural claims, and routine runaround where nothing much happens.
Low octane thrills sputter regularly, but hit a brick wall with under a half hour remaining in the runtime. Typically, macabre mysteries mount to climactic crescendos. “ AHASF: The Return” instead comes to a standstill as everyone regroups in separate locations designed to inflate the duration to 80 minutes when the film could have finished in 50.
The highest accolade up for grabs is “average.” Fishing for a compliment, acting is okay by low-budget standards. Laura Flannery houses onscreen energy her underwritten character doesn’t have opportunities to unleash. She and her co-stars have to settle for material that only permits mediocrity, although at least they exhibit experience that makes the movie’s tameness more tolerable.
Everything else lands decidedly below that “decent” mark. Underlit scenes, particularly in car interiors, and poor color grading reveal cut corners on the technical end. And unless you count new faces you’ll never care to see again anyway, a pedestrian plot adds nothing substantial to already middling mythology that’s flailing to become a franchise.
“A Haunting at Silver Falls” tried stretching relative success by squeezing sequel blood from a storytelling stone. “The Return” suggests it wouldn’t have made a difference to leave bad enough alone, which is probably where the property should remain buried. No wonder no one wants to return to the titular location, in the movie or in reality. Follow their lead and travel somewhere more intriguing instead.
Review Score: 40