Day 30: Cherry Falls

Day 30 of Calloween Movie Month

Content warnings: blood and gore, sexual content, sexual content including teenage characters, sexual assault, transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, alcoholism, drug use, underaged alcohol and drug use, child abuse, child harm, child death, brief discussion of real life death

Recommended?: Yes

Spoilers and discussion of many of the mentioned topics below. You have been warned.

The scariest scene in this movie was the extended toe sucking.

Was This Film the Blueprint for Malignant? No, It's Even Better Than That:  A SPOILER-FREE Review of 'Cherry Falls' – Horror Press

Cherry Falls follows normal high-schooler Jody Marken as she tries to piece together the mystery of a series of murders involving her virgin classmates. Her father, a sheriff, starts to worry about her as she is still a virgin herself. Especially when she narrowly escapes being killed.

In a post-slasher fatigue AND post-Scream world, a meta semi-ironic slasher like this has to do a lot to stand out. I think Cherry Falls succeeds in ways even outside of it's novel premise, the inversion of the classic 'sex = death' trope. But it's also bizarre and fun and well written and problematic and iconic in it's own ways. I genuinely don't understand why it isn't held up at least to the same level as the much more popular and much duller I Know What You Did Last Summer.

With an amazing lead performance from Brittany Murphy (rest in peace) who I think was born to play a final girl like this and oscillates somewhere between "normal mousy teen" and "unhinged feral stray cat." The fact that it takes place hilariously in Cherry Falls, Virginia. The genuinely unexpected and fairly progressive and non-exploitative take on rape in a puritanical, Pre-Me Too 2000s. It's littered with quotes such as "Holy hymens, Batman! They're killing virgins!" "We're talking hymen holocaust." "Poontang Clan." "I'd like to offer the killer's ass some support... in the fucking electric chair!" and of course "You're a shitsucking liar!" "Better than a cocksucking liar!" The shamelessly of-its-time score that has a mix of loud techno, screeching electric guitar, and speaker destroying bass. There's a lot to like about this movie.

Unfortunately it also has some problems. Aside from some minor problems with the writing and a few of the performances, it also has a problem with queerness. See, the one character who seems vaguely gay coded is killed off-screen and found as a corpse in a locker. And the only other non-heteronormative character is the killer who is, sigh, a man in a dress and makeup. While it's softened by the fact that neither his killings or his crossdressing are linked to perversion, it's still hampered by its reliance on the image of a deranged grown man in a skirt covered in blood and chasing virgin teens for its scares. Still, though, I think him dressing up as his mother to burn her image into the brains of the people he believes were either responsible for her trauma and his abuse at her hands or people who don't deserve to live the life she couldn't is interesting. It's as if he's embodying her vengeful spirit. I wish it was both explored more in the film and wasn't steeped in trans/homophobic tropes, but what can you do?

I want to highlight the way it handles rape. While not the most tactful handling of the subject matter, it does have it right in a way that many people even now don't.

The killer was conceived when his mother was sexually assaulted by four men, including the town sheriff and Jody's father. She went on to abuse him due to his resemblance to both the man she loved and one of the men that ruined her life. Obviously, he has a few screws loose and is going after the wrong people (innocent kids), but his presence and his backstory shines a light on an aspect of America's rape culture that often goes overlooked.

Rape is rarely committed by gross, deranged strangers in a dark alley at night. Much more often it's committed by people close to the victim, or people they trust. By people in power who won't face any consequences because of that same power. All of the woman's assailants were football players. Two left, but one of them became the school principal and another became the sheriff and Jody's father. Meanwhile their victim disappeared and died miserable. The sheriff was drunk, and acknowledges he still knew what he was doing when he raped her, but was too cowardly to go to the police for fear of implicating himself. 

This is all, despite the other genuinely unhinged scenes and plot points in the film, extremely believable. There are countless stories like this that happen in the real world, and so rarely do the survivors get justice. Cherry Falls manages to highlight these tragedies in a surprisingly thoughtful way.

Cherry Falls is an equally fun and sickeningly tragic slasher. Despite a few glaring problems, it's obscurity shows that people are much more terrified of fake monsters and big guys with weapons than the real life monsters that hide in plain sight.

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