Every town has its haunts. The house that you whisper about as you pass it on the street. The playground that you won’t walk through after dark. We share the stories of these places in hushed tones and with rueful smiles, never truly believing that they are real, not deep down.

But what if the stories are true?

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Through 2017’s Buckout Road, director Matthew Currie Holmes explores the story of one such place — and the consequences of doubting its power. The script was co-written with Shahin Chandrasoma (Uncanny) and locates the haunted ground along a stretch of road near a small town. This is no ordinary haunting. This is a supernatural phenomenon with an ego, and heaven help those who choose not to believe in its power. The film touches on themes of faith and sacrifice, and opens with a discussion of the function and purpose of myths.

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The cold open sets the tone early on, introducing us to a woman being haunted by an area known as Buckout Road. Plagued by nightmares, she sleepwalks out to the desolate stretch and hangs herself from the tree that she’s been dreaming about. After this dramatic beginning, the film settles into a character-driven slow burn for a while, focusing on our core group of characters and the relationships between them: There is Dr. Powell (Danny Glover), a kindly psychiatrist who cares deeply about his work but finds it challenging to be present for his resentful but good-hearted grandson, Aaron (a pitch-perfect Evan Ross). There is Chloe (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), Dr. Powell’s patient who has begun to experience her own horrifying nightmares connected to Buckout Road, and her father (Henry Czerny), a local detective who holds a grudge against Aaron. Eventually, we are introduced to the comic relief in the form of two classmates of Chloe’s who are also starting to sleepwalk. When Aaron also begins to experience the nightmares, he is enlisted by Chloe and her classmates to help them figure out why they are being haunted and how to halt the horror — even if that means venturing into the terrifying dreamscapes themselves.

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The performances are excellent across the board. The film offers a few decent jump scares, graphic, ghastly, and well-executed gore, and some genuinely disturbing imagery; the nightmares experienced by the haunted victims touch upon several of the darker histories of America, taking place in the eras of witch trials and slavery and involving racially-loaded dialogue. Editor Lindsay Ljungkull makes some cool and interesting choices throughout; the cuts during a nightmare montage are deliberately and effectively jarring and the footage during a nightmare set in the 1970s is presented in a grainy, vintage style that helps to set the mood. A great soundtrack and score add to the overall enjoyability of the film (hat tip to Ryan Shore).

Buckout Road is screening at 9:30 pm on Friday, November 24th at The Royal Cinema in Toronto. It will be preceded by the Toronto premiere of Scraps (2017). An impromptu romantic walk goes horribly wrong for a young woman after she meets the wrong man at a party in this Christopher Giroux short. I’m a sucker for eerie, masked villains and great electronic scores. If you’re also into those things, you’ll enjoy Scraps too.

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