Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cameron McCasland's The Lashman

Cody shares his thoughts after having the privilege of watching a screener of a recently completed independent slasher.

Writer/director Cameron McCasland's independently made, micro-budgeted entry in the slasher sub-genre begins in typical fashion for a movie of this type: a young couple having sex in the woods are interrupted by an assailant who dispatches them in a quick, brutal, bloody manner.

A unique touch to this sequence is the fact that the killer starts off the attack by snapping a bullwhip around the first victim's neck and using it to drag them to him. It isn't often, if ever, that you see a slasher use a whip, and this choice of weapon is part of what makes the titular Lashman an interesting new horror character.

Most movie slashers have a story that goes back several years, often decades, but the legend of the Lashman is a story that goes all the way back to sometime in the 1800s. A leathersmith looking to find a bride, the man who would become the Lashman made the mistake of settling in a small town that didn't take kindly to outsiders. One day a band of outlaws showed up at his place, dragged him to the outskirts of town, and beat him mercilessly with the bullwhips he had crafted himself in his shop. The outlaws then left the leathersmith out in the wilderness to die. He nearly was dead when an old spirit healer happened upon him. She spoke an incantation over him in attempt to save him, but it was too late... People say that once he was in the spirit world, the leathersmith was able to make a deal with the devil that allows him to roam the area in which he died, seeking vengeance, killing anyone he comes across. To this day, if you go down by the river at night, you might hear the Lashman snapping his whip...

It's a perfect set-up for a character that some great things could be done with, but unfortunately I did come away from this movie feeling like it had largely missed the opportunity to use him. The Lashman is barely present in his own movie. Aside from flashbacks during the telling of his story around a campfire and a glimpse of him seen through a window, he's absent for nearly fifty minutes of the running time following the opening kills.

The real focus of the film are the dramatic interactions between the Lashman's potential victims, a group of five young people - two couples and the outsider brother of one of the girls - who enter the Lashman's territory to spend a weekend hanging out, getting drunk, and jumping bones at a secluded cabin. A lot of time is spent delving into these characters' personal lives, examining their shaky relationships. It's quite admirable that the movie is dedicated to developing its characters, and yet it's also much more enamored with them than I was. There's at least one character who I was tired of long before they made their exit.

My impatience with their characters isn't the fault of any of the actors involved, they all do quite well in their roles. The pacing of the movie just had my attention wandering around the 40 minute point. Thankfully, I was only 10 minutes away from the return of the Lashman by then.

The first of the several people to die in the movie's last 20 minutes is a side character, a mentally unabalanced doomsayer in the mold of Friday the 13th's Crazy Ralph. He gets killed soon after sundown on the group's second night at the cabin, and I'd like to suggest that the pacing of the movie could be improved if this character's murder were moved up to occur during the first night, but due to the structure of the final 20 minutes that would be impossible. This person's corpse comes in handy for the Lashman immediately afterward in what I felt was one of the best scenes in the movie.

Still, a long build-up can be just fine if the payoff is good enough, which is part of the problem... For me, things sort of fell apart when the cabin group finally became aware of the Lashman's presence.

Perhaps it's personal preference. Often in indie slashers, an entire group of characters will figure out there's a killer on the loose at the same time, and then the killer picks them off while they're trying to escape. I usually feel this approach is a mistake when I see it, I much prefer when a slasher is stealthy and knocks off most of the group before anyone realizes what's going on. Revealing yourself to a bunch of people and having to pick them off on the run, it seems sloppy on the slasher's part.

This write-up may seem rather negative overall, but I actually did find The Lashman to be an enjoyable movie to watch. I watched it twice, liking it more on my second viewing. I have issues with how it was handled, but it's a decent indie slasher, better than a lot of others that are out there. The script is good, it's well directed and shot, and a standout element for me was the awesome score composed by Thomas Berdinski.

The end credits promise that the Lashman will return, and I look forward to seeing a sequel. I do hope, however, that the Lashman will have more to do next time around.

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