Coming to Theatres Soon!
By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.
Enjoyable performances enhance an already engaging mystery in writer-director William Scherer’s debut, House on Rodeo Gulch (2017). This central secret involves the strange goings-on in a home located in Santa Cruz, California. Such occurs after Denise Peterson (Chanel Ryan), and her strong-willed step-daughter, Shani (Megan Jay Simrell), take residence in the household. Soon afterward, the duo uncover that the building has attracted the attention of their neighbors. They are an obsessive Reverend, James (Jaye Wolfe), and his alcoholic assistant, Raul (Adrian Torres).
Based on true events, this plot is a stalwart foundation for a thriller. Scherer’s Hitchcockian inspiration lends a classical, underlying elegance to the fabrication. Continually, the meticulous, slow-burn pace of the excursion beautifully builds upon this basis. The high-functioning presence of this trait is consistently noteworthy throughout the 95-minute production. This is a courtesy of Scherer, who deftly plays Junior, and his well-structured and intelligent scripting. The same can be said of his equally proficient guidance of the affair. These items combine spectacularly. This is to keep both audience devotion and the enigma of the tale ever-palpable. The comedic bits installed into the undertaking, though minimal, further season the exercise. Simultaneously, Scott toys with the potentially supernatural elements of the saga to admirable consequence. This is true in the early sections of the feature. Still, there is a succession of familiar beats unveiled throughout the endeavor. Such a quality keeps the project from becoming groundbreaking. This is most evident in the underwhelming finale.
Regardless, the cinematography from Chen Dubrin, who also crafts a wonderful depiction of George in the picture, is stellar. His former-stated influence offers a gloomy, atmospheric veneer to the chronicle. Such comfortably suits the general feel of the configuration. Likewise, Scherer’s editing is proficient. The make-up, effects, costume design and sound contributions are also solid. Correspondingly, Austin Lawrence and Kevin MacLeod’s music is riveting.
The relationship between Denise and Shani is also a smart focal point for Scherer’s work. These aforesaid protagonists are sufficiently developed. They offer an internal intensity to the piece that makes viewers care. It also heightens the credibility Scherer injects into the proceedings. The other individuals that populate Scherer’s account aren’t as fully formed. Still, the vagueness of these details immeasurably increases the overall mystery coursing throughout the effort.
Such results in a splendidly honed and character-oriented psychological suspense yarn. The philosophical themes Scherer explores are bold. Moreover, the film comes off as authentic in nearly all departments. in turn, the arrangement builds a captivatingly believable tone. Best of all, Scherer culminates shock and surprise from sheer storytelling. Rarely does he resort to cheap jump scares or similar tactics of evoking on-screen fear. Scherer’s latest cinematic venture, which is full of many smoothly engineered narrative shifts, fluently allows bystanders to obtain the perspective of its chief figures. The undergoing just as readily establishes Scherer as an upcoming moviemaker to be watched. Because of these incredible attributes, the unique House on Rodeo Gulch is certainly worthwhile.
Available on Vimeo and other digital platforms now.
First time director William Scherer’s House on Rodeo Gulch is a thriller full of fun if you don’t take it too seriously.
Newlywed Denise (Chanel Ryan) has moved her teen step-daughter Shani (Megan Jay Simrell) to California against her will into a beautiful house in the woods. Shani’s father Bill is an Army ranger deployed to the Middle East. As they await his return to start their new life together strange events occur in the new house that seem to be somehow related to the unsettling and overzealous preacher who lives next door. Shani is a nascent bad-ass raised by her father to be tough as a Texas military brat. She does competitive target shooting and gives her guns affectionate nicknames. She is the proverbial loaded gun in act one, but wearing a bikini.
“These are boogeymen specifically meant to scare white city folk.”
The cinematography is lush and lovely. Greens of the forest pop and the shots are nicely done. F/X shots are fun, there’s a bit of Raimi-cam style drone footage to set the tone at the beginning. It’s an easy film to watch with the beautiful redwood trees framing the house.
Except for Shani the characters are stiff cardboard cutouts, which works fine actually, this is Shani’s story. Remember, we’re not taking it too seriously, this is horror-movie ‘verse. The sinister preacher (Jaye Wolfe) is arch and pious beyond suspension of disbelief and his minion Raul (Adrian Torres) is a textbook offensive Latino stereotype as a drunk working for a drug cartel with sketchy English skills. These are boogeymen specifically meant to scare white city folk. I’m not criticizing those choices, they work. For my money, you can’t do creepy better than creepy clergy (and creepy kids, which this film lacks).
“Megan Jay Simrell plays a perfect combination of surly teenager and steady voice in the crisis, not to mention her deadly aim with a .357 revolver.”
There are one or two issues. One example is a continuity gaff where Denise calls her father “dad” in his first scene, but right after that she calls him “Bob.” It’s a jarring mistake that takes the viewer out of the moment. Denise’s dialog is mostly her whiny-shouting “Shani” building up from merely annoying to a nails-on-chalkboard shriek as things get intense. That’s less atmospheric than it is irritating. The movie’s pace is off, dragging at times. These are minor points, overall the film works surprisingly well, particularly given the budget and inexperience of the director.
Everything comes together in the climax with Shani taking the lead rock steady and kicking ass. Megan Jay Simrell plays a perfect combination of surly teenager and steady voice in the crisis, not to mention her deadly aim with a .357 revolver.
This is an ideal film for interactive give-advice-to-the-characters style watching with drinks and popcorn on a rainy Saturday.
House on Rodeo Gulch Written and directed by: William Scherer. Starring: Megan Jay Simrell, Chanel Ryan, Jaye Wolfe.
7 out of 10