Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
The Secret of Sinchanee is a dark horror/thriller film set in New England, about a man who moves back home to grapple with a dark past, and the homicide detectives sent to the same town to solve a mysterious and grisly murder. The tale of the Sinchanee is that of a Native tribe who had unique immunity to various diseases. If you haven’t heard of the Sinchanee, that’s because they’re not a real group of people. However, there are certain bits of lore sprinkled throughout The Secret of Sinchanee that are based on real stories and myths.
Taking place just three days before Christmas, 1995, we see a young white boy trudging through the woods. He finds a backpack, and an arrowhead; his friend, a young indigenous girl finds him, and they head home. Later, when exchanging Christmas gifts, the young girl gives him an arrowhead, and the boy’s eyes light up with a reflection of the flames in the fireplace in front of him. It’s a comedically sinister moment, and it sets the tone for what’s to come.
In the present day, Will Stark’s (Steven Grayhm) father has just died, and the family home in Deerfield, MA, is being foreclosed on. In a lengthy bit of exposition, a state-appointed trustee explains to Will that his father was not able to pay for the home due to his numerous lengthy stays at various mental institutions across the state. The trustee explains that Will’s father suffered from schizophrenia, psychotic episodes, and “multiple personality disorder” (who else is tired of seeing Dissociative Identity Disorder villainized in film?). She also describes that the home will be difficult to sell, because of what happened in the past.
Since William now owns his father’s old home — the home he presumably grew up in — he decides to settle in there, moving back into town. Immediately, strange things start happening. We get little glimpses of a ghost in the corner, a window opening on it’s own, mysterious footprints in the snow. These moments likely would have worked better if there had been more film preceding; they feel sudden and while they may work as jump scares for some, they feel cheap.
By giving us these spooky and “supernatural” moments right away, there’s a tonal imbalance in The Secret of Sinchanee. It’s part detective thriller, part horror movie. The horror elements feel especially cheesy at first, almost like a nod to the Paranormal Activity movies (creepy specters lurking in corners ready to jump out and surprise you).
Rather than just focusing on Will’s story, we’ve also got a couple of cops who are investigating the mysterious murder of a young woman in town. The detectives, Detective Carrie Donovan (Tamara Austin) and a homicide detective from Boston who inexplicably came to help out, Detective Drew Carter (Nate Boyer), are cartoon character Boston cops. To top it off, they used to be a couple! It’s fun, sort of.
Much of The Secret of Sinchanee feels disjointed. We know what brought Will to town, we know there’s something dark in his past, we know these cops investigating a murder are going to cross paths with him at some point. What should be a smooth transition, two story-lines converging at a fork, instead feels clunky.
Upon seeing markings – brandings – on a murder victim, Detective Drew Carter gives the most unenthusiastic “jeez, what the hell are those” I’ve ever heard. It sounds like he’s bored. For the most part, his performance is solid. But the film almost really lost me with this line. I don’t want to disparage the performances in the film — you can tell many actors are giving it their all, and there are many other scenes where Nate Boyer is great.
The Secret of Sinchanee also suffers from the worst fake Boston accents I’ve ever heard. Deerfield is a real town in Western MA, about 2 hours away from Boston. I’ve never seen the Boston accent travel that far; it usually stays in Boston and the surrounding shores. Not only is the accent thrown around, with consonants dropped at every possible chance (even when they shouldn’t be), little references are scattered throughout too, such as to Dunkie’s, Massholes, etc. Who knows, maybe they talk like this in Deerfield.
The problems with this film aren’t limited to bad accents and seemingly bored actors. Will’s been having vivid flashbacks since he moved back home. In one, he sees his mother playing piano, and she tells him “you need to return it to its rightful home, William. Before it’s too late”. This is some of the most stilted delivery I have ever heard outside of the local theater. The problem with this scene: editing. This line could have been cut, and we could have had a creepy and mysterious scene. The line adds absolutely nothing to the plot. This is the sort of thing that would normally have me turn a film off; I’ve got no reason to keep watching.
Despite this, there are some scenes where the editing is actually the shining star of the scene. A scene where Will talks to his dog about how he shouldn’t have returned home is excellent due to smart editing. While the writer/directors of the film were attempting to tackle some large and important themes, much of the point is missed and confused by the addition of jump scares and a plot that’s a little too complicated for its own good. It’s worth watching for sure, but, unfortunately, I don’t expect most audiences will get what writer/director/actor Steven Grayhm was going for.
The Secret of Sinchanee comes to VOD October 8
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