"We tell real stories here! Real stories!" - Oscar
Three American tourists - Maya, Amelia, and Toby - are hanging at the beach trying to decipher a map of the local region and not having much luck. They attract the attention of Geordie and Oscar, two Aussies who involve them in a game of beach cricket as the day progresses. As night falls the group starts trying to scare each other with ghost stories around a camp fire. Oscar, tiring of the Yank's made up urban legends, tells a true ghost story about a spectre who races after speeding teens down Lemon Tree Passage, and naturally the group has to go check out the validity of the yarn.
Our group of young people are about to find out some urban legends are real and might not be the most dangerous thing out there. Revelations will be made, deaths will occur, and just what is Geordie's elder brother Sam's connection to the hauntings going down in backwoods Australia? A decent supernatural film ensues, let's hit warp factor nine down the Passage.
Strangely Lemon Tree Passage reminded me of Lost Things in that on first viewing I wasn't impressed but on a subsequent viewing was nodding my head in approval. One of those movies then that is worth a second look if you didn't get the full enjoyment first time round. Even knowing the ending didn't detract from my second run through, if anything I picked up on a few extra elements I had missed and could groove to the visuals more. Yeah we're talking low budget Aussie indie, but the production values here outshine a lot of flicks coming at us from the Boredwood conveyor belt studios. Sure there are a couple of minor problems, we'll get to them, but overall highly impressive debut feature from Director David Campbell who is really going to rock if his follow up feature is a haunted house yarn. Okay that might be just me, sucker for a haunted house tale, pretty much I'll watch any dark genre flick with the Director attached to it.
So clearly the movie is a revenant tale fill of revenge for wrongs in the past and paying for your sins, regardless if you actually committed them or not. Director Campbell has a neat cast he runs through in some inventive deaths, though to be honest most are happening off screen. I should point out this isn't a Samara clone so don't expect lashings of tension and high drama. As one of the early scenes indicates this is a ghost story for fireside retelling rather than an exploration of the human condition. I get the feeling the Director is well versed in the horror gene, yet avoids most of the pitfalls that make modern ghost movies pretty much toothless old hags. So yeah your eardrums won't be shattered by loud audio clues, there's a distinct lack of cats leaping from open cupboards, and we don't get additional ghosts simply for the sake of having additional ghosts. Got to love that in a movie, a return for mine to 1980s fare that had those of us who lived through the decade grinning from ear to ear down the cinema.
Director Campbell gets his ghost on from the first scene which was a unique take for mine; we're talking haunted man cave kids! Now that has to be pretty awesome on anyone's agenda of spooked out wickedness. Anyways Campbell runs through the freaky deak happenings, raising some tension, and asking end of scene "Is there someone right behind you" - check the scene kids to get the joke Campbell lays on us. Anyways there's a hint of Amityville Horror going down in stages, definite revenant rampages, and those with their horror radar on are going to pick up some influences from all those backwoods horror tales coming out of the States. So yeah we have paranormal activity meets urban myth as the motif coming at us.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this movie is how well the characters are drawn. The two Aussies ring true, come on we have all meet someone like Oscar. The three yanks, here played by Aussies, are authentic and without the obligatory obnoxious natures that most movies present young U.S citizens as having - see any recent Boredwood movie featuring Yank "teens". And finally Sam looks the sort, no spoilers Bro, check the movie to see what I'm winking at. Campbell is kicking a major with how he directs a by and largely young cast, and the actors have responded to deliver an actually believable movie as opposed to one where you are hoping Jason Voorhees culls the herd early in the Aussie outback, for example The Blair Marketing Project.
Not surprisingly the elephant in the room is the whole "based on a true story" vibe Campbell sort of injects while getting down and dirty with an actual horror narrative. A title card at the start of the movie can inform us that "(e)ach Weekend teenagers speed down Lemon Tree Passage Road in NSW, Australia. These teens risk their lives driving at high speeds in the hope of catching a glimpse of the ghost they believe haunts this stretch of road". This is accompanied by a YouTube video that reports to capture the ghost that sort of looks like the eye of Sauron, if Sauron got his drink on the previous night and had a nasty case of pink eye. To be honest I've lived in the region for going on eight years now, have never heard the rumour, and no amount of canvassing of locals elicited anyone else who had heard of the rumour. Yes the road exists, whether or not it might harbour a ghostly occupant is up to conjecture. End of day David Campbell relies less on the ghost that may or may not haunt, and is going his own way with plot development.
Which leads nicely into the major issue with the movie, an issue which isn't confined to Director Campbell's debut feature only. There are simply too many diversions into various horror sub themes which reduces the overall impact of the revenant tale which is at the heart of Lemon Tree Passage. In no particular order we get urban legends, The Amityville horror lite, backwoods tropes, weirdly a couple of Saw like traps, a sort of possession that doesn't really work, and of course the central revenge motif. If anyone has seen Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing you'll know just how convoluted this makes for viewing. A much better approach, in my jaded opinion, would have been to stick with the revenant revenge thing and add a lot more chills and thrills. Hey I don't make movies and if I did they would have a Samurai, yadda yadda.
As one would expect with the whole Samara style attack of the ghastly there's no real exploration of the human condition. Chicks will no doubt dig the burgeoning attraction between Geordie and Maya, Geordie's older brother comes through in the end to save his Bro, and there's some chemistry happening between the central characters. Considering this movie is no doubt aimed squarely at a teen market, that's a pretty good result overall and far superior to recent Boredwood teen horror outings.
It shouldn't need to be said, general lack of T&A and the gore isn't washing up on the shores. This flick is about as puritan as you can get in horrordom, so safe to throw on for the kids though one of the sins of the past might be a tad on the disturbing side for the young and impressionable.
Lemon Tree Passage was working for me, albeit on a second screening. Don't expect anything too revolutionary, and the plot is a bit of a jumble, but otherwise pretty decent ghostly outing. This movie comes as recommended to those who dig flicks like Lost Things or The Others, dive on in kids there ain't no sharks in these waters. Will definitely be catching whatever Director Campbell rocks out next, fingers crossed he sticks to the dark genre.