Yup, I don’t think I’ll be moving to Cassadaga any time soon thanks to Anthony DiBlasi’s creepy ghost story about seances, serial killers, and going batshit insane. Nope, don’t need any psychics connecting me to dead relatives, only to have a vengeful spirit latch itself onto me. Talk about putting a cramp on your social life, am I right? Hey, Matt, want to go out for drinks tomorrow night? Sure, but I’ll probably be haunted by a ghost at some point, so when I start screaming bloody murder and hearing voices in my head, just ignore me, I’ll snap out of it in like thirty minutes. Just one of the side effects of summoning lost souls, you know the drill bros.
Lily (Kelen Coleman) is a deaf school teacher in the prime of her life, acting as a caretaker for her little sister. While teaching one day, all the students are seen huddled around the window, and when Lily looks outside, she sees her sister laying lifelessly on the pavement after being hit by a vehicle. Absorbed in grief and guilt, Lily goes to Cassadaga to focus on her painting, being put up in an old, history filled house. Since Cassadaga is the psychic capital of the world, she ends up at a seance one night in hopes of connecting with her deceased sister, but instead becomes connected to another spirit who begins appearing in her life. Lily fears the new spirit has malicious intentions, but starts to realize the disfigured apparition wants her to complete some kind of task, as her soul cannot be at rest until the deed is done. Unfortunately for Lily, if she thought being haunted was terrifying, what she’ll soon uncover is far, far worse.
Cassadaga presents itself as a very bland, almost Hallmark/Lifestyle type of horror film, but I was somewhat fooled by the somber piano tracks and drawn out dramatics. Don’t get me wrong, this is “Clichéd Horror Filmmaking 101,” and comes in/goes out with these absurd bookend pieces, but while Lily struggles through sleepless nights and ghastly visions in the scariest of times, I might have pulled a blanket above my eyes a few times. Admittedly, I viewed my screener at midnight, in bed, with all the lights off, and fighting sleep after a hefty New York Comic Con workload, but DiBlasi kept me awake through jolts of vibrant fear, with my heart racing every time Lily saw this disfigured, rotting, vicious looking spirit invading her life.
Melding jump scares and long, drawn out shots, DiBlasi sets up the scare, lets his female actress slowly bring a smirk or glare as the ghost twists her head or comes into focus, and then picks up the pace by lurching her forward or finishing us off with a quick, aggressive move. These kinds of films don’t usually get a rise out of me, but for some reason Cassadaga had my mind convinced something was always watching, and I’ll admit my eyes darted around my dimly lit room once or twice. Films like the recent Haunting In Connecticut sequel barely got a wince out of me, yet Lily’s torment had me sufficiently creeped and uncomfortably irked – exactly what horror fans need in a film.
But not everything worked this well, and while Kelen Coleman gave a lead performance worthy of a watch, her real life foe didn’t hold the same weight. The ghost who latches onto Lily is ultimately steering the deaf artist towards her dead body, and the cross-dressing serial killer who goes all Lorraine Bobbitt on himself as a child. That’s his backstory – his mother cuts up the dress he so loves wearing, smashes his favorite doll, and in retaliation, he turns himself into a female in the simplest way he knows – by grabbing some scissors and becoming a Ken doll. From here, he becomes a crazed psychopath who loves abducting beautiful women and turning them into living marionettes. Is it weird that I found the paranormal aspect more interesting than this failed attempt at creating a slasher icon? This is where I became uninterested, as Cassadaga loses grip of a rather terrifying haunting story, and replaces it with slasher schlock that’s feebly crafted, providing strange motives and little build up for this sick, twisted puppeteer.
In the end, despite being terrorized by atmospheric horror, Cassadaga becomes a sloppy mess of numerous genre mashings, overly-dramatized interactions, poor slasher execution, and unintentional comedy. It’s a shame, because there’s definitely promise in Lily’s journey, and bright moments kept my spirits high, but once the credits rolled, I realized those hypnotizing moments of clarity were overshadowed by a dickless killer wearing a dress, and my enthusiasm went all wet noodle.
Cassadaga is so close to being hauntingly endearing, but an overly "Hallmark" feel and laughable serial killer destroy any excitement or pleasure that genre fans might be teased with.