Horror cinema is a funny thing. It’s one of the oldest genres of populist film and has been a constant presence from Nosferatu to Bride of Frankenstein to Psycho to Texas Chainsaw to Blair Witch to Saw and onwards.
Through that time it has shifted and changed, evolved you could say, to keep up with the times, and in that has ranged from the highest of budgets to the lowest with success rarely dependent on that factor.
Cain Hill then is a new super low-budget feature film from Guernsey born director Gene Fallaize that had a special screening and Q&A at the island’s Beau Cinema on 29th September 2017 thanks to Guernsey Arts Commission.
The film takes the form of a kind of found footage piece, combined with a more traditional haunted house story with bits of slasher movie thrown in telling the story of a documentary crew investigating an abandoned psychiatric hospital, supposedly inhabited by a murderous former patient/inmate.
While the low-budget means the film does look and feel rather cheap as I’ve said this can be overcome, particularly in this genre – see the original Evil Dead for one. In Cain Hill however it never quite manages to do this, despite the obvious efforts of the filmmakers.
With lots of references to classics of the style, along with the feeling that pretty much every trope of the genre has been thrown into the mix, the final outcome is a muddle that strives to build a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere around its lead characters (a generally unlikable and unrelatable bunch) but ultimately seems to want to focus more on its villain, the mask wearing, baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire with nails through it wielding, Chester Lockheart (the physically impressive Phill Martin).
Cain Hill isn’t alone in focusing too much on its monster and stumbling because of it, but I think it just feels more noticeable here as the tension necessary to make him truly horrifying is missing and, unfortunately, slips too far into either just being slow rather than tense or, when the action kicks in, sadly laughable (a response shared by several in the cinema tonight).
In the end then Cain Hill comes with a lot of ambition but, partially due to the limited means, partially due to a flawed structure, it seemed to not know what it wanted to be and quite how to overcome these shortcomings to create a satisfying final product.
Following the film we got a Q&A session with the director which added some extra confusion to the film, particularly around the source material that, apparently, is loosely based on a true story, but it was hard to pin down exactly in what way.
This was added to by the announcement that Fallaize’s next film would also be based on a true story, that of The Beast of Jersey, giving the feeling that there is a bit too much of a sense of exploitation going on in these choices (though I got the feeling this wasn’t exactly intentional).
Aside from this though the Q&A was interesting although I was left with the feeling that this was something of a misguided passion project and possibly could have worked better if cut back to a leaner running time.
Also through the Q&A we found out the film has distribution and will be released around Halloween thanks to producer Scott Spiegel, who rose to prominence as producer of genre landmark, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead – so it seems whatever I missed he got about Cain Hill.