There’s a somewhat commonly held axiom in screenwriting, “make something happen on every page”. With Munger Road, writer/director Nicholas Smith has boldly flipped that axiom on its ear by making sure that nothing happens. Ever. In the entire film. Sure, there are things that take place onscreen (however rarely) that might qualify as “events”, but no discernible effort has been made to connect them to any kind of real narrative.
Munger Road so anti-story that I’m going to follow it to opposite-land and do something I never do. I’m going to try and break the whole thing down for you. It’s the only way to really review the movie. I’m going to give it a horrible grade and I feel like you deserve to know why. If I just listed everything I didn’t like about it it might read like a 5/10 review. But this is a 2/10 review and the only way to really explain it is to try and take you on the same journey I went on. It’s also part therapy for me. I need closure on this one. I need to put the pieces back together.
Let’s start off with our two protagonists, Corey (Trevor Morgan) and his girlfriend Joe (Brooke Peoples). They’re hanging out in a cafe at night. Joe excuses herself to go to the restroom, takes a look at the positive pregnancy test she’s been keeping in her purse and bursts into tears. You’d think that this would be brought up again in some meaningful way but you would be wrong. She wipes her tears and heads back to the table and never mentions it again. Sure there are moments in the film where she’s angry at Corey that this could be some kind of impetus for, but I think the fact that Corey is a giant idiot who wants to hunt ghosts more than suffices for motivation in this case. See, he’s got this plan where they’re gonna meet up with Scott (Hallock Beals) and Rachel (Lauren Storm) and head out to Munger Road. Local folklore has it that a school bus full of kids was killed by a train out there. Their plan? To park on the tracks and let the ghosts of all the dead kids push them out of the way of an oncoming train. For scientific purposes, they pour baby powder on the bumper of Corey’s jeep to capture the handprints of the ghosts.
How does all this play out? It doesn’t. Early on there’s a handprint on the bumper and later one on a window. That’s about it. Sure the car dies and they get trapped, but there’s no instance of an oncoming train. Are there ghosts? Maybe? Like I said, a hand print appears on a window. And there’s a kill that’s sort of maybe 5% captured on one of the characters’ video cameras but it’s vague to the point of leaving open the option of him just tripping on something and hitting his head really hard.
It’s probably time I address the other half of the movie since it’s essentially a bifurcated narrative. Our time with the kids on Munger Road is intercut with Chief Kirkhoven (Bruce Davison) and Deputy Hendricks (Randall Batinkoff) from the local police department. The Chief still works the beat despite being in his 60’s (lucky for him Deputy Hendricks is still wet behind the ears at 43 or so) and he’s just gotten a fax that a killer is on the loose. This is bad news because the annual Scarecrow Festival is coming up. I mention this because we never see the Scarecrow Festival since it takes place after the film ends (at which point we haven’t really seen the killer either).
Anyway the Chief and his Deputy pretty much just wander around for about half the movie. This is important to mention because, again, you can’t really call it a subplot if it takes up 50% of your running time. So what do they find? Nothing. Occasionally the Chief will allow a meaningless clue to rattle around his genial, stunted brain which results in a conclusion that is equally meaningless. Which leads us to -
You know what? Before I go further I need to stop for a second and get something off my chest. I want to acknowledge that this movie actually succeeded in making me feel really stupid. After the first viewing I was plagued with doubt, “Did I miss something? It’s impossible that this is how a movie would be assembled right? This can’t be right. I must have watched it wrong”. So I went back the next morning and actually watched large chunks of it again. Nope. It turns out that the movie is literally so vague it makes you feel like you’re developing neurological damage as you watch it. So while it’s totally possible I have some of the events in this film wrong, I assure you I gave it as much time as I could with 1.75 viewings. I’m even playing it again right now as I write this because I desperately want to know if I had a stroke and can no longer remember movies correctly! It’s possible!
Anyway, at some point (for some reason) the Chief (after getting wind of the town’s four missing idiot teens) decides that all this sh*t is going down on Munger Road. So he and the Deputy head over there. How? By tunnel. The whole time they talk about how bad this killer is, but after watching this scene twice I literally can’t remember a single thing I found threatening. This movie is like cotton candy, it disappears right as you’re watching it, sometimes it even seemingly disappears before it happens. At one point Deputy Hendricks suggests to the Chief that he should navigate the tunnel alone since he’s younger and faster [ostensibly]. The Chief agrees, leaves the tunnel, gets in his car and beats the Deputy there. This makes sense, because Munger Road is a road it seems totally believable that it would be reachable by car and not underground tunnel. I just want to know why the f*cking tunnel option was even discussed!
Back to the kids. Joe and Corey are now trapped in a farmhouse off Munger Road for two equally uninteresting reasons. Corey is made out to be a red herring for about two seconds before he is killed totally and completely offscreen. The killer (maybe just a killer technically, but that comes later) then comes to threaten Joe. We never see the guy, only his hand. He holds a knife to her stomach and then, I guess this is where her pregnancy comes into play, just turns around and leaves. He even turns out the light. It’s kind of like in Alien 3 when the creature doesn’t kill Ripley because she’s pregnant but A. I’m not even sure if that’s what happened here and B. it would make no sense anyway.
Soon thereafter the Chief arrives at the scene, followed by Deputy Hendricks busting from the tunnel and into the room (via a brick wall). Of course the killer is already gone and Joe is fine.
They head outside, other cops arrive, yadda yadda yadda. The Chief gets a phone call that the killer they’ve been looking for the whole time was dead. Killed on the train tracks. So I guess Corey was murdered by the killer’s ghost? Maybe? Maybe it was a different guy altogether? I’m not sure.
I know. It’s confusing. What happened, right? Well thank God they have Scott’s video camera! It’s where all the clues are! They decide to turn it on, we zoom in on the device in anticipation and… the movie ends. Really! It’s like a prequel to some other equally bad movie.
So here we have a slasher movie/cops-on-the beat/found-footage hybrid. Except there’s no kills. And the cops border on being special-needs cases. And there’s no found footage. It also manages to introduce the ideas of both ghosts and serial killers and not pay off either. We’re left with the looming specter of a pregnancy sensitive ghost wreaking havoc at the Scarecrow Festival but I’m fairly sure it would be the least memorable havoc-wreaking in the history of… wait, where was I…?
Plusses? It’s in focus. And some of the performances are actually okay but the actors are given nothing to work with (I know! It’s an oft used criticism, right? It has never been more appropriate). Given how incompetently it’s written it actually has some vague cinematic qualities.
So bravo Munger Road! You managed to be a decently shot movie with some editorially sound technical decisions. You are also one of the most boring films I have ever seen. Watching you is like developing alzheimer’s in real time.