Welcome to Buckout Road, a two-mile stretch of asphalt that’s been dubbed the “Most Haunted Road in America.” This little stretch of road in upstate New York has inspired countless urban legends, but no one in Westchester really believed any of the tales until a humanities teacher Stephanie Hancock (Mayko Nguyen) killed herself. Many around town, including investigating detective Roy Harris (Henry Czerny) and Dr. Lawrence Powell (Danny Glover) believed that Stephanie was mentally unstable, but it appears her students are being afflicted by the same nightmares that haunted Stephanie enough to make her take her own life. The stakes for Detective Harris and Dr. Powell are raised upon realizing that their relatives are being haunted as well. Cleo Harris (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) develops similar symptoms while working on an assignment about Buckout Road’s myths. Powell’s grandson Aaron (Evan Ross) comes back home from the Naval Academy to stay with him, and, you guessed it, he starts having dreams.
By introducing new characters and then burdening them with visions that they don’t understand until they talk to someone, the repetitive nature of The Curse of Buckout Road starts to strain viewer enjoyment early. If it were just Cleo and Aaron, that formula might work, but once you add twins Derek (Jim Watson) and Erik (Kyle Mac) to the mix, it’s unbearable to sit through the same situation four times. Not having your soul stolen is a strong motivation when you’re a teenager being tormented by ghouls. It doesn’t need to be reinforced more than that. A film this small needs to have momentum on its side, when the rhythm repeatedly screeches to a halt for another explanation, people start looking for the door.
Matthew Currie Holmes moved from acting in horror films like The Fog (2005) and Wrong Turn 2 to writing and directing features; this is his first as a multi-hyphenate. Curse of Buckout Road is a labor of love that sat in post-production for two years before finding release, and, unfortunately, there appears to be good reason for that. Holmes loves the genre and it shows–ghost stories, slashers, killer albinos, and crazy hillbillies all come-to-life. His enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by the stale nature in which the ghouls are presented, however. The midnight movies of the 80s which inspired this tale were made possible by fusing high concepts with low budgets, but that approach has limits. Fair or not, audiences today expect a little more from horror films, and while Curse of Buckout Road has its glossy, professional-looking moments, at other times it’s distractingly low-budget. Take one nightmare sequence that takes place in the 70s; the sheen goes away for a look inspired by aged 35mm celluloid, yet it more closely resembles an Instagram filter.
The presence of reliable actors Danny Glover, Henry Czerny, and Colm Feore all help move the film along, though most of the younger cast seems overwhelmed by the script, and they resort to theatrics rather than letting the performance speak for itself. The dialogue also presents hurdles. Exposition is verbalized straight-out with little consideration as to how it would flow in conversation. Dominique Provost-Chalkley and Evan Ross use the screen time they have to boost the possibility of breaking out in a future film, but Curse of Buckout Road isn’t that opportunity. Both have chops, but they’re not utilized as well as they could be. Danny Glover brings the appropriate fervor to a man doggedly pursuing ghosts in his capacity as a doctor and as a man of the cloth. A consummate professional, Glover gleefully carves the scenery every chance he gets. If Buckout Road was as committed as Glover’s performance, it would be a cult classic people would seek out for ages.