A horror film really shouldn’t use the PG-13 rating for any sort of genre that really deserves a bloody and gore-filled film. It makes a film feel neutered; part of the appeal of a film like Saw is that it was an effective thriller that also didn’t skimp on the violence. A PG-13 saw would’ve completely killed that aspect of the film while aiming to try and bring in teenagers to up the box office receipts. There are rare times when a PG-13 film helps a horror film that otherwise could use the embracing of an R rating. Munger Road is one of those rare times when a horror film doesn’t need an R by effectively using atmosphere to create tension that doesn’t demand a blood soaked finale.
Taking its cues from an urban legend in suburban Chicago on the real Munger Road, and shot on location, the film follows four teenagers who get more than they bargained for on a double date. Corey (Trevor Morgan), Rachael (Lauren Storm), Joe (Brooke Peoples) and Scott (Hallock Beals) all venture out onto the famed Munger Road and get more when they bargain for when a killer comes onto the prowl after them. Meanwhile a St. Charles police officer (Bruce Davison) is on the case of the same killer, who escaped during a prison break. As the police officer connects the dots between the now presumed missing teenagers and the killer, the four must deal with being trapped in their van after their car dies on the famed road.
With a cast which has its highest profile name being a character actor of some note in Davison, one would expect this to have fairly shoddy acting. This is perfunctory indie horror acting, with nothing magical happening, but it’s perfectly acceptable for what the film needs. Munger Road works better because of this because it’s shot from two styles: with hand held cameras inside the van and more traditionally for the other story. It works because the dead teenagers feel more like a documentary and the cast has sufficient chemistry to make us feel like this is an awkward double date amongst friends.
It’s also an effective thriller because Nicolas Smith opts to go for scares with what we don’t see as opposed to what we do. With the killer slowly stalking the teenagers, and then picking them off one by one, he doesn’t show any gore or their deaths. We just hear screams and actions, as opposed to see them, and so the imagination will fill what we don’t. It’s an effective tactic that adds to the tension; by not seeing what’s happening, and only hearing it from a character’s perspective removed from the action, it makes it much scarier. There is something to be said about only hearing blood curdling screams as opposed to seeing them in a case like this.
The other thing that Smith does that makes the film effective is that it makes the film essentially two stories told at the same time. While we follow the cops trying to track down the killer, we see him at work on the other side of town. As the cops put everything together, and the teenagers go from trying to figure out the next step as they are being stalked unbeknownst to them, it makes for a strong thriller because both sides have pieces to a puzzle that only the audience can solve.
The film’s main problem is that it’s obviously being set up for a franchise as opposed to being a strong standalone film. The film’s ending doesn’t resolve anything but set us up for a second film; it feels lumped on as opposed to feeling organically part of the story. Otherwise Munger Road is a great use of scares built slowly with a strong story.
Writer / Director: Nicolas Smith Notable Cast: Bruce Davison, Randall Batinkoff, Trevor Morgan, Brooke Peoples, Hallock Beals, Lauren Storm