Munger Road (2011)


USA. 2011.


Director/Screenplay – Nicholas Smith, Producer – Kyle Heller, Photography – Westley Gathright, Music – Wojciech Golczewski, Visual Effects – Ryan Urban, Production Design – Matt Hyland. Production Company – Insomnia Productions, Ltd


Bruce Davison (Chief Archie Kirkhoven), Randall Batinkoff (Deputy Ross Hendricks), Trevor Morgan (Corey LaFayve), Brooke People (Joe Risk), Hallock Beals (Scott Claussen), Lauren Storm (Rachael Donahue), Art Fox (Mayor Ray Swanson)


The small town of Saint Charles, Illinois. Police chief Kirkhoven receives news that Shea Gunther, a convicted serial killer who lived in the town, has escaped from a prison transport vehicle. Kirkhoven and his deputy Hendricks go out on foot patrol around town trying to work out where Gunther is likely to have returned to. Meanwhile, Corey LaFayve and his friend Scott have dragged their mutual girlfriends Joe and Rachael out to Munger Road, which is reputedly haunted. They are intending to film what happens so they can sell it to a ghost hunter tv show and stage an incident where they stop the vehicle on the railway line to see if the ghosts will push them off. They are startled when the car is moved and afterwards find prints on the bumper, although the girlfriends believe that this is a set-up. The vehicle then breaks down and someone or something starts stalking them.

I checked out Munger Road because it had gotten a reasonable review on some horror website I had been browsing. All I can say after watching is that the site must have been a paid shill for the makers of the film. Munger Road is a feature debut for director/writer Nicholas Smith. Smith shot the film in and around various small towns in Illinois with a largely unknown cast who have mostly had minor parts in various films and tv series but nothing of any note – with the exception of the well-established name of Bruce Davison.

I gave Munger Road a more than reasonable amount of rope. It holds your attention initially as you keep wanting to see where it is going. The problem with the film is that after the one-hour point you are still trying to figure out where it is going. The two parallel plots seem potentially interesting – one with the teens being stalked (or possibly haunted) as their vehicle is broken down on a country road, and the other with aging police chief Bruce Davison and partner Randall Batinkoff on foot following Davison’s intuition that an escaped serial killer will return to town – here you keep being reminded of Halloween (1978). Part of what keeps the attention is trying to figure out how these two parallel plots are going to knit together.

Nicholas Smith aims for directorial style. Initially, the film starts out seeming like another Found Footage film with the group of teens recording themselves as they head off into the countryside on a hare-brained stunt but this is soon forgotten. Smith aims to copy the peripheral jumps that John Carpenter managed so well in Halloween – someone lurking out of the shadows as Randall Batinkoff investigates the cellar, the rear door of the SUV opening behind people, a pair of hands creeping up beside Lauren Storm’s face. These should have been eerie jumps but somehow Smith misses what it takes to put an audience on a knife-edge and these sit in the arena of the merely routine.

The biggest disappointment of Munger Road is its ending (or lack thereof). [PLOT SPOILERS] The film fades out with Bruce Davison learning that the killer he was pursuing was killed in an accident the night before and could not have slaughtered the teens. This leaves him puzzling over exactly who it could have been. At this point, the film ends with a big ‘To Be Continued’ title card. This is intensely frustrating as it leaves you having watched a film with some expectation that it would tie everything up and make sense. Aside from asking who the real killer was, you want to know other unresolved and unanswered questions like – Why did all the clocks stop along the stretch of road? Is the killer a purely mundane psycho or are the group dealing with something supernatural? One guesses they are going to have to wait to a sequel to find these answers, although Nicholas Smith has yet to announce anything. That of course fails to address the other question – of whether Munger Road generates enough interest for one to care about finding out.

Bruce Davison, a genre regular since taking the lead role in Willard (1971), and who has sketched out a more than reasonable career as a character actor in the five decades since, is the one thing that makes Munger Road seem more than the amateur film it essentially is. Davison nails the role of the aging cop on beat patrol with an authority and is given more than reasonable support by Randall Batinkoff as his junior partner.

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