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Cherry Falls (Geoffrey Wright, 2000)


     As anyone with even a passing interest in the genre knows, the moral code of the teen slasher film dictates that virginity is the supreme virtue for a character to possess. In his brutal horror movie Cherry Falls, Australian director Geoffrey Wright turns that cliché on end by terrorizing his attractive young cast with a knife-wielding killer that preys on young virgins exclusively. Set in the small, affluent, fictional town of Cherry Falls, Virginia, this gorefest follows the genre’s template faithfully, pitting sulky teens against the parents who don’t understand them after a serial murderer begins to pick them off. In this specific case, when the word gets out that virgins are the target, the teens rebel with a plan to deflower themselves en masse in a teen orgy that one terms a “hymen Holocaust”. As the plot kicks into gear, and a series of rather predictable familial secrets come to light, things quickly develop into a question of whether or not the chaste teen heroine (Brittany Murphy) will lose her virginity in order to protect herself. Even though the film ends up ultimately retreating from that dilemma, it puts the whole movie in a slightly subversive light, resulting in well-conceived scenes such as the heroine’s awkward confession to her father that she, indeed, is still a virgin. 

    Director Wright makes his influence felt in other ways too. He defines his characters courtesy of some overzealous costume design and encourages heavily stylized performances from his actors. The scenes showing the killer’s attacks are especially aggressive, as would befit the director of Romper Stomper, and the overall tone is more mean-spirited than in most movies of this type. Wright’s imagery is not as rich as one might expect from a talented director working in such a disreputable genre. Nonetheless, he occasionally offers an image that stands above the literalism that generally defines this kind of movie, such as when he cuts from a zipped body bag to his teen heroine as she’s dressing or the bloody waterfall that is shown in the closing shot. Such moments help to enliven the routine script, which labors extensively to establish red herrings that could only fool a fool or the fact that Murphy’s character is trained in self-defense. Kevin Williamson’s deconstruction of slasher movie tropes in Scream was so effective that Cherry Falls can’t help but feel somewhat behind the times, even if it is largely self-aware. Nonetheless, the film largely delivers in the ways that one would expect this kind of horror movie to, with effectively staged murder scenes, an ample body count, some harmless titillation and plenty of gore.




Jeremy Heilman