Organ Trail (2023)

Rating: D+

Dir: Michael Patrick Jann
Star: Zoé De Grand Maison, Olivia Grace Applegate, Sam Trammell, Nicholas Logan

The missteps in this Western with horror aspirations are many. They likely begin with the title, a thinly-disguised riff on a classic educational computer game from the eighties, which proves utterly meaningless. Organs, be it of the church or internal variety, play little part. It takes place in 1870’s Montana, when Abigail (De Grand Maison) and her family are heading west with their wagon. They stumble across the site of a massacre, and rescue the sole survivor, Cassidy (Applegate), only to fall victim to the same perpetrators, a group of outlaws led by Logan (Trammell). The two women are taken by the gang, but Abigail escapes, and after recovering, decides to follow Logan and his men.

It seems clear that Bone Tomahawk is the obvious inspiration here, particularly in the way this operates mostly as a Western, before shifting into more traditional horror territory at the end. The problem is, this doesn’t work very well as either. While it also tries to replicate the slow pacing of Bone, Jann doesn’t have the directorial chops to pull it off. Consequently, the 112-minute running time is mostly dull rather than atmospheric, enlivened only occasionally, such as during a scene on a frozen lake. I will say, it is very nicely shot throughout, Joe Kessler’s cinematography doing the scenery justice. You may find yourself reaching for a blanket, such is the sense of chilly mountain grandeur. Even the sections which unfold at night have an almost luminous glow to them.

It’s likely the main redeeming feature, as the movie crawls its way across the prairie towards an underwhelming conclusion. Problems begin with the apparent lack of motivation for everyone. Abby’s return is supposedly to rescue her horse, because it’s only family she has left. Okay. This is still more than the outlaws get. Quite why they bother to make it look like their killings are the work of Indians e.g. using arrows instead of guns, is not adequately explained, nor why they are roaming the Montanan wilderness in the first place. Then there’s the British accent sported by Trammell, which is faker than his pseudo-intellectual burblings about Romeo and Juliet. At least Rhys (Logan), the menacing enforcer of the gang, has the defining characteristic of being a complete psycho. 

In the final act, the film turns into some kind of Western remake on the home invasion movie, with the women eventually moving into action. The effects throughout are another area of competence, with some enthusiastic make-up and blood squibbing on the kills, which work towards the gritty sense of realism for which Jann is aiming. It rarely gets there otherwise, and it feels as if his lack of experience in both Western and horror genres may have hampered him (his filmography leans more towards comedy, in particular Drop Dead Gorgeous, though that was close to a quarter-century ago now). Never mind dysentery, the tombstone for viewers here is more likely to have etched upon it, “You have died of boredom.”