Cherry Falls Movie Review

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By now, the audience for slasher films is perfectly attuned to the rhythms of Scream and its spawn of imitators, each more formulaic than the next. Attractive teenagers flirt with one another, meander around campus chatting on their cell phones, then abruptly find themselves isolated in an abandoned library or, God forbid, alone in the house. That's when the masked killer attacks. Cue the shrieks.

Put Cherry Falls a notch above the competition for the audacity of its wry comic twist. Yes, there's a creepy, longhaired psychopath, either a convincing drag queen or a ferociously strong woman, deliberately seeking out virgins for slicing and dicing. Virgins. The resourceful students of Cherry Falls High School soon realize that they have a deliciously simple choice: sex or death. Which would you choose?

Not even their sensitive "Mr. Nice Guy" teacher (Jay Mohr, Jerry Maguire) can prevent the hormones kicking into overdrive when an elaborate bacchanal is planned for Friday night. Considering the alternative, randy boys and horny girls seek salvation in each other's arms. Yeah, baby, yeah!

The local sheriff (a well-cast Michael Biehn, Aliens) turns a blind eye to those naughty kids while following the only lead he's got. Could it be that ever reliable plot device of a dark secret in the town's past which can no longer remain hidden? He's determined to find out. No sooner has he told his headstrong young daughter Jody (Brittany Murphy, Clueless) to mind her curfew than she's sleuthing around herself. Daddy's little girl suddenly becomes the slasher's chief target.

You'll have no trouble deducing the killer from the handful of suspects, though screenwriter Ken Selden's choice of leaving the gender a mystery certainly helps. Senden also creates a very well-written father-daughter chat for Biehn and Murphy where the birds and the bees are not so easy to categorize. When he asks whether she could still go a little further, it's unclear just what he's intending to protect.

For the most part, Cherry Falls sticks to the tried and true formula, bringing to mind words like adequate or functional. Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) deftly handles his directorial chores, maintaining well-crafted suspense without adding any particularly original new tricks to the proverbial cinematic bag.

In addition to the clever touch of kids breaking the fundamental rule of slasher films (where only virginal heroines survive,) Cherry Falls has one other vital ingredient. Brittany Murphy has all the makings of a movie star, a girl with beauty and brains. On top of that, she's quite a capable actress, much more believable as an eager high schooler than scream queen bimbos Neve Campbell or Jennifer Love Hewitt.

If anyone deserves to inherit the mantle of Halloween's Jamie Lee Curtis, it's Cherry Falls' leading lady. Her most challenging roles have been on stage (Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge) but she hasn't struck gold onscreen. With a little luck, who knows? If the Jamie Lee comparison is accurate, she could go on to star in the 21st century's answer to A Fish Called Wanda. Memo to Hollywood: Give Brittany Murphy more work!

Masterpiece not.

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Cherry Falls Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2000

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