[Salem Horror Fest Review] 'Threshold' Pushes the Limits of How Far it Can Go without Much Tension
As a reviewer, I feel a certain obligation to my readers...
...In simplest terms, it’s my responsibility to give you a sense of a film, a taste, what to expect, and ultimately how I left the experience feeling. One of my favorite tools to help fulfill these responsibilities is the comparison. Sometimes a thing is best known or clarified by such means. So, to give you a (hopefully) relatable idea of what watching director Powell Robinson and co-director/writer Patrick Robert Young’s road trip feature Threshold (currently making its North American premiere at this year’s Salem Horror Fest) was like, I’m going to tell you a brief story.
Sometime in early 2015 I had my first experience with edibles. I knew a guy who worked for a company who sold them to dispensaries in Southern California and he dropped by with a gift basket. Amongst the cornucopia of treats was a three pack of brightly colored macaron cookies. I was told to eat one and wait two hours. I ate one. After about an hour and forty-five minutes I felt nothing and chalked it up to my size, I’m a big dude. So naturally I ate the other two.
Right about the time the couch suggested, in my voice, that we get chicken tacos, I knew I was in trouble. I lovingly patted the couch for his sage suggestion and began to have what I can only describe as intermittent blackouts. Except I was still fully active during these “blackouts”. I call them blackouts because the moments when I cleared the fog felt like awakening.
I “woke up” and I was in my friend’s moving car. Unknown amounts of time passed and I “woke up” in line outside of a hot dog restaurant. Again I “woke up” in the process of eating a hot dog I can’t recall purchasing. Again, beside a pool. And then finally behind the wheel of my boyfriend’s car doing 75 on the 101 to pick him up from work. “Babe, I don’t know how I got here alive, but I think you need to drive home.” I told him and proceeded to blackout again. I remained intoxicated for much of the following day and have only those staccato moments of clarity to fill in the blanks.
I had a similar experience watching Threshold. But much like my encounter with edibles, this took a while to kick in. The film starts off with Leo (Joey Millin) unearthing his old car, spangled in bumper stickers, after being strong-armed by his mother into rescuing his sister Virginia (Madison West).
Leo finds his sister in a ransacked apartment, screaming and writing on a bare mattress. After the episode passes, Leo attempts to engage Virginia in piecing together her current predicament. He’s sure it’s drugs, but she tells a different story. A story involving a group of people that help get her clean of drugs who she later discovers are a bizarre cult that imparts a curse on her when she attempts to leave them. A curse inexplicably binding her to another hapless defector.
With unmitigated skepticism and deep reservation, Leo agrees to help Virginia locate this other man on the condition that if he doesn’t exist and she is not in fact cursed, she’ll voluntarily check into rehab.
It’s about this point that the filmic blackouts begin. What follows is a montage of “wake ups” as the siblings move from one domicile to the next. No-tell motels, B&Bs, modern mountain retreats, and log cabins. Given the number of days and accommodations utilized, it seems safe to say that their destination lies quite a great distance from their point of origin. Yet they seem to spend a majority of their time not on the road, but rather in these lodgings, having lengthy and expositional back and forths, discussing meal options, carving pumpkins, playing with Ouija boards, fending off methamphetamine addicts in clown masks frisking them for drugs in remote mountain houses… You know, traditional sibling road trip fare.
Millin and West make the best of the material as both are very capable performers. However, the script does overtime trying to make them feel naturally like siblings. So much so that it ultimately stains the edges of canvas with the very thing it strives to avoid. They bicker like siblings, sure, but their dynamic lacks the tender undercurrents that soften the edges of sibling relationships, like Derry (Justin Long) and Trish’s (Gina Philips) in Jeepers Creepers. Derry and Trish feel natural from the jump. Some of it might simply be Long’s affable nature. It might also be that Jeepers doesn’t begin in crisis the way Threshold does.
The scares are few and far between, though the ones that rear their heads ought to raise gooseflesh on at least one if not both arms. And that might’ve been okay if any of the rest of the film had been used to build dread or tension. Most of my sustained tension was in anticipation of things actually becoming perilous or spooky. Spoiler: they never really did.
At 78 minutes, it’s a real bold choice to save the bulk of the madness for the last 5 minutes. That’s the rub though, isn’t it? This was more like an extended cut of the first half of a movie. The film ends as it finally kicks off, a sin that might be forgivable if this were the filmmakers’ very first project. Spoiler: it’s not.
It’s a tough one, kids. There’s enough here to chew on, but you’re sure to be hungry an hour later. It’s not bad, it’s just not great. Have a snack for now and let’s see what they cook up next time. Hopefully they get the dosage right and don’t eat three of the proverbial macarons.
By Paul Bauer
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