Despite what your pocket watch may tell you, time doesn’t always move forward, and it certainly doesn’t heal all wounds.
Autumn Road begins with young twin brothers Charlie and Vincent (Ranger and Jonas Lerway) outside of their father’s family-owned haunted house. Before the attraction opens for Halloween night, the brothers’ father takes Vincent and Winnie (Maddie Lea), Charlie‘s secret crush, out trick ‘r treating. After receiving a pocket watch from an older gentlemen instead of a peanut-covered treat (which she is allergic to), Winnie takes the watch back to Charlie‘s hideout, a broken down hearse outside the haunt. After eating the peanut riddled bar, Charlie shares an innocent kiss with the young girl, who immediately falls into anaphylactic shock.
Panicked, Charlie tells his twin brother, Vincent, who coldly proclaims that he will take care of the situation. Winnie is never found. Cut to decades later, the twins have taken over the family haunted house. Winnie’s older sister Laura (Lorelei Linklater) returns to the hometown after yet another tragedy falls upon her. Laura begins to form a bond with the grown but still-reserved Charlie (Riley Cusick), despite the watchful eye of Vincent (also Riley Cusick). Little does she know the dark secret the twins hold from the past, or the terror Vincent continues to cause all these years later.
Autumn Road captures the dread of a tragedy that doesn’t fade away with time. It’s hard to imagine something more devastating than your first kiss resulting in your love interest’s death, even just in a roundabout way. The mood of grief, tension, and trauma hangs heavy over every scene. It’s almost as if the filmmakers put a “depression” lens onto their camera before shooting. Director/writer/actor Riley Cusick and cinematographer Carson Bailie expertly create an environment that it’s essentially impossible to feel happiness within. Even the sunny autumn daylight radiates dark secrets in this film.
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There’s not a ton of story available for Autumn Road to work with. Once the plot moves out of the past and into the present, the film feels much more like a snapshot of a day in the life of three haunted individuals than a linear anecdote. Vincent is the clear monster, the storm cloud hovering over Charlie and the force that has unknowingly guided the trajectory of Laura‘s life. It’s evident that Charlie desperately wants to escape his dominant twin, and moreover the life left to him by his father. Riley Cusick handled the massively tall order of playing not one, but two lead characters while also directing Autumn Road.
Cusick does an admirable job hopping back and forth between haunted introvert and violent sociopath. Glasses and hair style contrasts aside, the personality differences between the two are very distinct. Lorelei Linklater’s performance as Laura impressively mirrors the young Winnie, illustrated by the fact I remained unconvinced she wasn’t actually the grown up version of the unlucky child for much of the film. Charlie’s attraction to her feels very natural for this reason.
While Autumn Road spins it’s wheels a bit in the mud of a thin story, Cusick’s filmmaking eye will steal your attention. The film makes several seamless, downright beautiful transitions between timelines. In one instance, the young trio of Charlie, Vincent, and Winnie are shown throwing sticks off of a bridge on a sunny autumn day, when they suddenly look to their left at the approaching Charlie and Laura of the present day.
Another emotionally impactful scene finds Laura in her sister’s bedroom, looking through her old drawing book. She pulls the covers of Winnie‘s bed over her head to see the young girl inside, asking her to sit still as she sketches. The pulls of heartstrings aren’t the only impressive examples of talent behind the camera. In a very tense sequence, Vincent follows a disgruntled haunted house tryout to his home in an outstanding 2 minute scene filmed in one single shot, a clear ode to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Composer Braden Pottle’s score, a brooding cocktail of suspense and sadness, accents the scene perfectly.
“Autumn Road captures the dread of a tragedy that doesn’t fade away with time.”
Despite the slow pace of a thin story, Autumn Road displays a level of filmmaking talent rarely seen in a debut feature. Convincing performances and an atmosphere of uneasiness highlight this tale of inescapable dread, a tale that should keep the horror community on notice for whatever Cusick will bring us next.
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