Studio: Uncork’d Entertainment
Director: Griff Furst
Writer: Michael McDowell, Jack Snyder, Griff Furst
Producer: Griff Furst, Isaiah LaBorde, Stephen Furst
Stars: Josh Stewart, Candy Clark, Robbie A. Kay, Frank Whaley, Christopher Lloyd, Sara Catherine Bellamy, Joe Chrest, Rachele Brooke Smith, Chester Rushing
The murder of a teenage girl unravels a supernatural mystery in a small Florida town.
Small town murders have a habit of unspooling deeper mysteries in movies, but “Cold Moon’s” comes with a supernatural twist. When Margaret Larkin goes missing from her family’s Floridian blueberry farm, Margaret’s grandmother Evelyn has an immediate culprit in mind. Since his elderly father fell ill, Nathan Redfield took control of his family’s fortune as well as the local bank. Nathan now has his eyes on seizing the Larkin land, and Evelyn thinks his dirty hands are involved in foul play.
Sheriff Ted Hale has another name for the potential villain list. It seems Margaret may not have been a model 16-year-old after all, prompting Ted to wonder if there was more to her student-teacher relationship with Mr. Perry at the high school.
As a tug-of-war rope tightens between two top suspects, a wider web spins around Nathan’s little brother Ben, his father’s flirty caretaker Belinda, and a pair of lawyers looking to take down opposing families. Once one ghost rises from the water and two more corpses go into it, a domino line of deaths tips over with gravely ghoulish consequences for everyone involved.
With a deeper vocabulary, I could accurately summarize how “Cold Moon” fires simultaneous hits and misses using a few precise words. First instincts beg to settle on “quirky” as an adjective for the film’s choppy cinematic style, but that suggests a buoyant tone that definitely doesn’t fit. “Bizarre” comes to mind too, though the movie has a tame personality that can’t wear that hat either. For lack of a more academic term, let’s simply say that while “Cold Moon” is not at all a total loss because of or in spite of its oddness, nearly everything about it is a little bit “off” in some way.
Based on a novel by Michael McDowell, “Cold Moon” falls into the classic adaptation trap of cramming too many book pages into 90 minutes worth of movie. The mystery motivating the main narrative has no practical use for subplots involving bank lien legalities or thematic threads about modern caste system politics. Not that “Cold Moon” overloads on such side stories, but a stacked roster of minor characters who could have been combined or removed altogether smacks of shoehorned inclusions a brisk film doesn’t have time to develop.
Sadly, that’s exactly the case with Christopher Lloyd, who spends his scant few scenes in a wheelchair playing a part that amounts to a prop. Take out Lloyd’s father figure, explain Nathan’s path to wealth another way, and “Cold Moon” can safely skip one of its surplus beats.
Of course, no one, particularly producers, would argue against including Lloyd in anything, no matter how ultimately irrelevant. “Cold Moon” casts a number of other notable names such as Josh Stewart and Frank Whaley in beefier roles, although no one turns in top work. Performances all around function well enough, yet director Griff Furst has everyone speaking in a Southern drawl that sounds natural for no one. Then there is someone like Candy Clark who turns her emote meter for grief to 11, sobbing over a traumatic revelation as though her limbs were being ripped off while burning to death in fiery acid.
Acting essentially becomes Exhibit A of what was alluded to earlier. All of the right pieces are in place, except everything is tuned in a slightly strange fashion.
Other elements fall under a similar spell of maybe making sense as a piece while not fully fitting into the whole. Nathan Furst’s moody score is perfect perhaps for a Gothic haunted house shocker while being overdramatic for the action on hand here. Strange staging, one example features a murder suspect standing next to the sheriff at the victim’s funeral and another has the two brothers conversing while one takes a steamy bath nude, regularly raises eyebrows. Again, nothing is weird enough to sink the ship, although “Cold Moon” takes on water because of its choices.
I don’t wish to pigeonhole director Griff Furst just because his résumé includes titles like “Swamp Shark,” “Ghost Shark,” and “Trailer Park Shark.” Work is work and there’s no shame in making a living at any tier of professional filmmaking. But those credits create cause to question if Furst’s sensibilities make him the best helmer to handle a multilayered, Southern fried ghost story, which requires more nuance than a Syfy creature feature.
Something the film tries to establish is a “maybe it’s a manifestation of his guilt” possibility behind the hauntings. Except overzealousness to incorporate paranormal spooks has Furst shooting standalone scenes of a ghost rising from its grave or a second person experiencing terrifying visions, independent of the “all in his mind” man. “Cold Moon” can’t walk a line between psychological thriller and supernatural horror show using mismatched perspectives.
The script also follows a crooked path as a vengeful ghost yarn. By amping up the body count as the runtime rolls forward, taking that revenge comes with a steep price of additional innocent lives being taken or ruined so one spirit can get its due.
Speaking more positively, several superlative scare sequences come courtesy of creative FX, even if several jump out for being jarring than for being cleverly constructed. Yet again, it’s another instance of coloring outside the lines enough for an audience to notice something doesn’t feel right.
These kinds of conflicts have me almost as uncertain of what to rate “Cold Moon” as the movie is uncertain of itself. Despite preceding criticism, I still engaged with the movie because of its strong production value and stronger intent to have more entertaining scope than an ordinary supernatural murder mystery. Oddness aside, a good thriller exists within “Cold Moon.” An even better one exists there too, wishing for a streamlined script and more confident hand to steward it into the sunlight.
Review Score: 65