The Burned Over District (2022)

Rating: B

Dir: Vince and James Coleman
Star: John Harvey Sheedy, Amy Zubieta, Michael Ciesla, Robert Lindquist

It perhaps helped that I went into this with almost no knowledge of the movie, and the resulting ride was likely wilder than I could have imagined. If you want to replicate the experience, you should skip the rest of the review, catch up with the film and then come back so we can talk about it. In general terms, I suppose this counts as “folk horror,” though it has considerably more actually happening than some of that ilk, which was a welcome surprise. Once I saw where this was going, I settled back, expecting an extended period of atmospheric apprehension, building dread and so on. Doesn’t happen. The pedal is, more or less, consistently pressed down. Things get gnarlier and nastier, the further we get into matters, and it’s quite a journey into the heart of darkness. “Apocalypse Now“, you might say.

Certainly, if this is anything to go by, we can cross upstate New York off the list of places to which we might possible move. It’s where Will Pleasance (Sheedy) lives, though his life has been turned upside-down with the very recent death of his wife in a car accident, for which he feels responsible. His sister, Katie (Zubieta), has come up to help him get through the tragedy; his mother, not so much. An increasingly pressing problem is a result of a large pit on his property, which helpful neighbour Fred (Lindquist) explains has been the site for ceremonies of various kinds, both religious and judicial, since before Europeans settled the area. Meanwhile, Katie encounters the locals who are very strange. Then Mom goes missing, and…

Well, things get increasingly bizarre from there. For it soon becomes apparent that not everyone follows traditional religious beliefs, to put it mildly. Human sacrifice, forced impregnation and, simply, tossing those who are problematic into that apparently bottomless hole are all part of their system. These are carried out in pursuit of some kind of apocalyptic reckoning which feels suspiciously Lovecraftian. Not least because of the pinkish-purple glow which is hovering ominously, over an increasing area of the darkening skies over the neighbourhood. Will and Katie are going to have to dig deep – pun not intended – to counter the cult, though doing so could leave Will a changed man forever.

The title refers to religious revivals which took place in the area in the early 19th century, per Wikipeda, “to such a great extent that spiritual fervour seemed to set the area on fire.” The story here is based on what might happen if that fervour had not died out, but had survived, mutating and inbreeding over the centuries into… /gestures vaguely at the screen. It’s a super-creepy concept, and for sheer, committed lunacy, the sect here is right up with the one in The Void. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is the ending which, without saying too much, suggests the cult might not be entirely wrong.

The Burned Over District is currently playing festivals.