A haunting, cerebral thriller that dangles secrets like candy and pays off sweetly.
When Jake Richardson (William Clifton) returns to the small town of his birth, the locals all assume that he’s there for the same thing: to investigate the unsolved childhood murder of his brother. After the local sheriff (Bryan Lane) forbids Jake from poking about and stirring up bad memories long forgotten, a girl named Olivia (Lindsey Luscri) helps provide Jake with critical evidence that may help him solve the 30-year old case. Unfortunately, it’s not the living guiding Jake towards the unknown and uncaught killer, and if Jake doesn’t heed the sheriff’s warning, digging up the past may cause him to share his brother’s fate.
Ghost children, a haunted house, an abandoned amusement park, and an urban legend all come together in Deadwood Park to keep you guessing to the very end. An extensive background revealed by a sequence of continuously older flashbacks provide critical information as the mystery deepens, and while all the clues are there, a tight story and effective editing keep the film’s plot on track as it winds towards its conclusion. While the plot itself is intriguing, what director Eric Stanze was able to do on a shoestring should be the stuff of independent filmmaking legend.
With so much done well in this film, I must address the weakest point first. The lead actor, William Clifton, is tasked with shouldering the story itself, but sadly he is the weakest actor in the film. Many of the most pivotal scenes in the film could have been viewed more horrifically if Clifton could have found a way to better sell them; too often he appears to be deciding how to react rather than genuinely reacting to what’s happening. Clifton appears far more comfortable working up to asserting himself against the town sheriff and performing the physical needs of his role.
Otherwise, the film is an amazing accomplishment. Multiple locations have been edited together so seamlessly that you want to believe the bulk of the budget was spent acquiring and cleaning up stock footage from currently abandoned locations. Clever camera angles and modern cinematography betray that belief, leaving only the speculation of the same crew filming the park for many years during its decline. Even a full World War II battle sequence is convincingly staged by reenactors who brought their own equipment and certainly showed they knew how to use it. Even scale models are used at one point, all to the best effect to create a seamless locale to stage a horrific tale.
The reason I’ve given so much praise to the technical aspect of this film is because of how well it served the story to be told, a huge undertaking considering the span of years it covers and the number of characters involved. With the exception of a boat scene that provides no new information and a few location choices for some of the final action, Deadwood Park is a memorable and frightening tale about a horrible event slowly destroying a town and the accepted consequences of resolving the matter for all involved. This is the kind of film that Hollywood studios should be aspiring to instead of remaking slasher retreads. Is it so hard to imagine a complex story creating the heart that a horror film needs to rip out, or is it just easier to put an out-of-work wrestler in a rubber mask to hack up people with farm equipment?
(a three skull recommendation out of four)