As someone with an academic interest in how stories work and the messages they convey, it’s almost a requirement that I love folk tales and legends...
...My favorites are the US-grown tales that have been around since the country’s birth. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to check out A Deadly Legend, written by Eric Wolf and directed by Pamela Moriarty, the first for both filmmakers in their respective positions.
Joan Huntar (Kristen Anne Ferraro) is a real estate developer looking to start work on a new housing development at the site of an old summer camp. On the way to check out the site, a mysterious woman appears in the road, forcing Joan and her family into a deadly accident. Despite this tragedy, Joan is intent on building on the site of the campground and seeks approval for the project from the city council. The only person who objects to her building permit is Carl Turner (Judd Hirsch), an older local who tries in vain to explain that the build site sits on ground that is connected to the deaths of several families that have lived there in the past. As any well-versed horror fan would expect, no one heeds his warnings.
With construction underway, Joan and her family throw a small celebration in honor of their upcoming success. Little does anyone know (except Carl, of course), that construction is about to unearth an ancient set of magickal stones and unleash evil spirits who hope to open a gateway to the living realm. Joan and her family find themselves in a fight for their lives against a mysterious evil they neither believe in nor understand.
Despite an obviously limited budget, A Deadly Legend doesn’t fall prey to the poor cinematography common to most indie horror films. Pamela Moriarty teams up with cinematographer Lars Elling Lunde to make use of framing and camera motion that brings life and tension to their shots. A Deadly Legend is well-produced and directed, despite some of the digital visual effects revealing the budget’s constraints.
Unfortunately, A Deadly Legend lacks tension throughout that even great camerawork can’t make up for, in part due to a convoluted story. The movie tries to juggle several different aspects of the plot all at once: evil spirits, psychic powers, ancient magick sites, secret pacts, and twists and turns galore. The first hour or so is fine, but as the revelations pile on, the balls begin to fall, and the film becomes more of a jumbled knot of story elements. The concept of the film is great, so it’s disheartening to see it suffer from being overwritten.
Another factor that contributes to the relatively tensionless atmosphere is the comedy littered throughout the script. Don’t get me wrong, I love comedy and camp in a horror film, but the jokes here aren’t funny enough to be meaningful and they don’t seem to be paced in a purposeful way. The comedy seems less like a tool to soften fear and tension and more like an attempt to give the movie memorable one-liners. Eric Wolf and Lori Petty both play their comedic roles perfectly but keep the film from reaching an atmospheric high point. A Deadly Legend teeters on the edge of being a horror comedy without fully crossing over, something I wish Wolf had committed to unapologetically.
Despite its issues, much of the film feels well-paced, and it reaches a satisfactory climax. It seems to lose its way again, however, when it reaches the ending. The end is abrupt, a tad cliché, and steers the plot dramatically away from what it was. I don’t mind an unexpected ending if it puts a new spin on things, but we’ve all seen the ending of A Deadly Legend in more than one movie before it. This might be where Deadly Legend’s “first feature” status is most apparent: while the rest of the film seems to flow, the ending feels more like an afterthought.
If you’re looking to watch some light fare and crack open a few cold ones, A Deadly Legend will fit the bill, but those looking for something more intense best look elsewhere.
Deadly Legend comes to VOD July 24th from Gravitas Ventures
By Tim Beirne