Reviewed by: Dave Murray
Terrence & Elizabeth Smith
What's it about
Based on four widely different urban legends and ghost stories that are told in Long Island, NY (two having to do with the creepy and awesomely named Sweet Hollow Road), this labour of love by five independent filmmakers is made up of four short films fictionalizing each tale. What's more is that each film is preceded by a short documentary look at the origins and details of each legend. Sit tight kiddies, because from what I can see, Long Island is one hell of a spooky place!
Is it good movie?
For the most part, Lost Suburbia is an engaging and entertaining look into some of Long Island's log running local legends. While the four short films themselves are somewhat hit and miss, what struck me most was the presentation here. The documentary bits before each short film are fascinating, fact filled little pieces of creepiness that do a marvelous job of setting up the horror to come, with some great A&E/Discovery Channel moments that really set your short hairs a wiggling. It's too bad that after such a wicked set up, a couple of the short films are a let down in the spook department.
Let's break down the four legends on hand here:
Misery Loves: Paul Natale's entry in this anthology is based around the teen hangings rumoured to have occurred along the legendary stretch known as Sweet Hollow Road, the result of a suicide pact and the cause of many teenage urban legends (as usual involving flashing your headlights and seeing dead swinging teens). The short documentary itself is nicely done and sets an excellent tone, but the short film that follows seemed a little lacking. Maybe because personally I find the idea of suicide pacts to be a little silly. Yes I know some teens are tortured and live in a state of funk that they think they will never grow out of (how else do you explain all this 'goth' foolishness), but seriously, these kids need a hobby or something. Maybe someone to talk to? A kick in the ass? Anyway, the short is well filmed and has some creepy moments, and Natale displays some nice style choices as a director. It's too bad the kids in this one just annoyed me.
Mary's Grave: The next short deals with the widespread urban legend of "the lady in white", which many different regions claim as their own, as the documentary segment shows. It also plays with the idea that no matter where you're from, there is a ghost story involving someone named Mary. The short film, by Sean King, is very nicely done. The makeup and atmosphere are dead on and creepy, and the story is well told with some decent performances by a young cast. Their Mary is seriously scary, and the twist at the end makes this one of the two exceptional standout pieces of the film. There are some scenes that seriously bugged me out, which is a rare enough thing that this one gets major kudos from me. I'd love to see some of King's other work, because he shows some considerable talent in this little short that scared the pants off of me. Atmospheric, with a great use of location and makeup, and some ultra creepy shots made me want to see more of both the short and the documentary!
The Institute For Mental Hygiene: This was, for me anyway, the weakest short out of them all. The documentary bit showed so much promise, and set up the legends surrounding the Kings Park Psychiatric Facility very nicely. I'm always intrigued to see how asylum stories play out, because they do have so much potential for screaming bloody terror! However, the following short film, directed by Terrence and Elizabeth Smith, is nothing we haven't seen before. A young girl brings her college sweetie to the legendary site, where he loses his mind and to this day wanders around looking for her. The implied fact that she just dumped his ass, and he never received any psychiatric treatment and is left to walk the streets a drooling loony whom she calmly and blithely passes and comments on, well, it just didn't work for me. It was competently shot, despite some cheesy 'insanity' effects, but the story was by far the weakest of the bunch, and it failed to capitalize on the rich history and spooky-as-hell backstory of the location.
Lady of Lake Ronkonkoma: The final short examines the Native American legends surrounding a particular lake, one where many young men have systematically drowned over the years. The legends, which vary only slightly, have a young and heart broken young Native girl drowning herself in the lake and vowing to drown any man who swims there in revenge for her lost love. There is a nicely atmospheric set up, which is reflected in the excellent short directed by Pete Bune. This is a moody little piece, with some great scares and a nice nod to the shocker ending of Friday the 13th. Of particular note here is the performance of Kat Sarfas, who shows enough talent and range that I would love seeing her in other things soon. This last one is a well told tale, and quite chilling in execution and atmosphere.
While the short films themselves were uneven (two of them were excellent, two of them not so much so), the documentary segments worked on my sorry ass and had me glued to the TV. I think this would have worked better as a straight documentary, with more exploration of the legends and local facts, and then have the dramatizations intercut with the interviews and 'Ken Burns' style photos and narration in an Unsolved Mysteries sort of way. I would have enjoyed that far more. But the movie gets high marks because of its unique composition, its presentation, and the strength of the legends themselves, which were enough to keep even this jaded asshole scared of the dark for a little while. Nice job, guys!
Video / Audio
Video: Widescreen - 1.78 : 1.
Audio: English (Dolby 5.1 Surround).
Aside from the Trailer, we have four short Making Of Featurettes that give us a behind the scenes look at each of the four short films. Sadly, there's no look at the making of the four documentary segments that preface each film, which were the more interesting part of the movie as a whole. Awesome DVD cover art as well! It really catches the eye and evokes the mood of the whole movie.
While half of the shorts worked and half didn't, on the whole Lost Suburbia was an entertaining movie, and a successful experiment in combining documentary story telling with the art of the short horror film. It is a finely produced effort, but it would have benefited from more of the documentary and less short film. But for an anthology, it works quite well. The segments in between the films give it a great spooky 'TV ghost hunter' sort of feel, and the short films were, for the most part, well made and even somewhat shocking. The two that I really enjoyed (Mary's Grave and Lake Ronkonkoma) both show the promise of good things to come from the filmmakers. On the whole, this movie is a must see for anyone with an interest in urban legends, ghost stories, Long Island history and short film anthologies done in new and interesting ways. This independent movie is quite the achievement, and deserves to be looked at closely.