Smart at times but not nearly smart enough, and peppered with good ideas it doesn't really know how to exploit, Cherry Falls is just good enough to make you wish it were far, far better. An unmistakable offspring of Scream with the savvy to forego the clumsy self-awareness that's become the genre's trademark, Cherry Falls stars Brittany Murphy as a high-school student and resident of the titular locale, a town troubled by a long-haired, fishnet-sporting maniac killing off the local virgins. The publicity surrounding the murders sets off a predictable explosion of libidinal activity among Cherry Falls' teens, with even the school's geekiest boys (including Road Trip's D.J. Qualls) suddenly in demand for their sexual services. This intriguing twist subverts the sex-is-death equation of both the AIDS era and the slasher genre by explicitly linking sex with safety and abstinence with death. Similarly promising is Cherry Falls' conception of its slasher as a feminist avenger, an androgynous lunatic bent on holding the town's males responsible for their hypocrisy. Unfortunately, writer Ken Selden and director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) do little with either idea, using both as window dressing for a well-acted, well-directed, woefully familiar slasher film. Cherry Falls' greatest liability is its lack of suspense, a weakness attributable largely to the less-than-terrifying killer, a shaggy-haired, leather-jacket-sporting psycho who looks disconcertingly like a member of the Ramones. But Cherry Falls has one giant asset in the usually underutilized Murphy, whose unconventional good looks, appealing awkwardness, and off-kilter presence are refreshing in a genre that defines its heroines by their sexuality and the depth of their cleavage. Still, not even her presence can save the film from devolving into a suspense-impaired, laugh-free orgy of blood, depravity, and shameful secrets, all of which can be easily gleaned by anyone who has ever seen a film set in a small town where things aren't exactly what they seem. For a movie obsessed with going all the way, Cherry Falls leaves far too much of its considerable potential unfulfilled.

Advertisement