Cassadaga is a confusing film. It’s not confusing in the sense of complex story lines or confounding ideas, it’s more of a case of the film not really settling into what sort of story it wants to tell. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi and written by Bruce Wood and Scott Poiley, Cassadaga does a lot of things right. Character development and world building are strangely robust for this type of movie. The sequences that are pure horror are inventive and well shot, leading to maximum creepy factor. When combined into its single running time, though, the film’s pieces don’t seem to quite fit together in any identifiable way.
Cassadaga begins with two, eventually parallel origin stories. One for our villain and one for our protagonist. The villain’s origin story is especially effective as it plays with that standard child sociopath set-up, right down to the first-person camera approaching an unsuspecting mother in that expected slow and ominous way. DiBlasi manages to divert that cliche into something a bit more interesting, however. Our protagonist’s origin story, however, is a bit more ham-fisted. We open with Lily(Kelen Coleman) a deaf teacher with a younger sister that is in her care. After a few sequences of theme-pounding through her teacher lecture about overcoming adversity, Lily’s little sister is killed tragically. Thus begins the story. Two damaged characters on a collision course.
And that course is mostly well done. Ignoring some stale acting and even staler expository dialogue, the film effectively takes its time in developing the world that the characters live in as well as their general motivations. But the time it takes delving into the character driven part of the film, makes the pacing seem shaky and uneven when the “horror” elements finally begin. The introduction of the paranormal element is especially clunky. Imagine an indie mumble-core film that has an uninitiated conversation about the validity of the paranormal in the middle of it. As jarring as that would be, it is even more so here as the paranormal elements continue with no real set-up or explanation beyond the most rudimentary and brief bits of dialogue.
So at this point we have an indie character piece about grief and disabilities with a bit of paranormal thrown in. This would be strange enough for any film to try to balance, but then the script adds in a serial killer who likes to make human marionettes.
This introduction is so sudden and located so far into the running time that if one were to nod off and wake up they would probably assume they just started a new film. So, at nearly the traditional third-act break, Cassadaga adds a third narrative piece to juggle. This compounds the strange pacing and schizophrenic atmosphere. So while none of these elements are particularly poorly done, it never really manages to combine these elements into a cohesive film.
All of that said, the skill and craft of the filmmakers mostly carries Cassadaga to the finish line of a successful movie. Strange pacing and general awkwardness aside, as well as an anticlimactic ending, Cassadaga is entertaining enough to watch. Beneath all of that entertainment, though, lies an underlying feeling that Cassadaga never manages to click on all cylinders. And that’s a real shame.