D: Lex Lybrand / 93m
Cast: Lisa Friedrich, Micheal Foulk, Dustin Runnels, Jill Thompson, Megan Simon, Jack Jameson, John Gholson, David Laurence, Bob Swaffar
Ada (Friedrich) and Calvin (Foulk) are in a committed relationship but there’s a problem: Ada, despite wanting to, is unable to make love with Calvin. She tries to, but every time she does she becomes uncomfortable and stops. Calvin is understanding and makes no effort to pressure her, mainly because Ada has recurring flashbacks to scenes and images from her childhood, fragments of memory that appear to be affecting her ability to have sex, but which she is unable to decipher.
As these fragments are from Ada’s childhood – a childhood she has very little memory of – Calvin suggests that they visit her hometown of Sheol, Oklahoma in an attempt to find some answers. Ada agrees and they make the journey to where Ada grew up. Along the way, Calvin raises the point that Sheol is another name for Hell; Ada replies that it was. When they arrive, they stop at a gas station where two local men (Jameson, Gholson) challenge and intimidate Calvin, eventually running him off with the threat of being shot. He and Ada travel on to the road on which she lived, but when they get to where her home should be it’s no longer there; nor is there any evidence it was ever there.
Confused, Ada and Calvin go to Ada’s aunt Lindsay (Thompson). Aunt Lindsay proves to be unhelpful and aggressive, and Ada and Calvin seek help at the local church where they encounter the Reverend Woodward (Runnels). Woodward tells Calvin that people come to Sheol to die by their own hand, and it’s his job to help them through it. When Ada and Calvin leave the church they find their car has been set on fire. As they try to figure a way of leaving Sheol, they find themselves pursued through the woods by some of the townspeople. They manage to avoid them and head back to the church. Reverend Woodward agrees to show them a way out of town through the woods, but when they reach a stream, events take an unexpected turn for the worse…
Beginning with a prologue that sees two strangers meet an airport, then tracking their journey to a field outside Sheol, Meet Me There is an independent horror movie that – prologue over – takes its time in establishing its two central characters and building an eerie mood that, by the movie’s end, hangs like a pall over the material. It’s a confident approach by screenwriters Brandon Stroud and Destiny Talley, allowing the drama and the ever-growing sense of unease felt by Ada and Calvin to permeate each successive scene with increasing intensity. The script is also canny enough to take Ada’s haphazard memories and use them as a kind of McGuffin, with their importance eventually gaining less and less traction as the movie advances. Instead, the mystery of Sheol takes over, and the couple’s nightmare grows more pronounced.
By focusing on the mood of the piece, Stroud and Talley, along with multi-hyphenate Lybrand, have created a sombre and chilling tale of small town paranoia and appeasing sacrifice that is far more effective than its low budget origins would suggest. As Ada and Calvin’s initially hopeful journey to Sheol begins to give way to feelings of suspicion and terror, Lybrand and his writers do their best to ensure that Ada and Calvin’s reactions lie within the bounds of credibility, and that the actions of the townspeople never seem arbitrary but set within the parameters of the mystery that envelops them.
The imperilled couple are played with a large degree of understanding and skill by Friedrich and Foulk; not only are they believable as a couple, but their performances – which could so easily have sailed into the stratosphere named hysterical once they reached Sheol – remain considered and restrained in comparison to most other low budget horror movies where characters are chased through the woods or threatened with imminent death. Here, Ada and Calvin react and behave in a way that isn’t too stylised or removed from recognisable, understandable behaviour, and as they find themselves drawn ever deeper into the mystery of Sheol, both actors maintain the solid performances they’ve provided up ’til then.
They’re aided by Lybrand’s slightly off-kilter cinematography. Not exactly a new way of doing things, it’s still an effective way of highlighting the strangeness of Ada and Calvin’s situation and is used with careful attention to the scenes it’s used in. Otherwise the visual look of the movie doesn’t stray too far from a natural, straightforward approach that serves the majority of scenes well, and avoids any unnecessary frills. And with Lybrand serving as the movie’s editor, the movie is quite well assembled as well, though some shots are held for a little longer than is needed, especially those involving Runnels (best known as WWE wrestler Goldust).
A little less successful in terms of characterisation is the role of aunt Lindsay, well acted by Thompson, but so edgy and manic that her appearances threaten to undermine the carefully wrought suspense and low-key menace that otherwise makes the movie so quietly potent. Her facial appearance is also very distracting, and when she’s on screen the movie’s formidable mood is blunted. The sound too is mostly less than satisfying – it sounds as if everything was recorded with tin cans strapped to the front of the boom mic’s. But the sound isn’t a complete disaster as on occasion it adds to the overall mood, and on those occasions is ably supported and enhanced by Mark Daven’s creepy original score.
Rating: 7/10 – an above average entry in the low budget horror movie stakes, Meet Me There is an often intriguing movie that is held back from being more successful by a few budgetary constraints; that said, its strange disposition and increasingly doom-laden storyline has far more going for it than other movies of a similar ilk.