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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Sinkhole (2009)

Director: Eric Scherbarth
Stars: Jason Harris and Dan Leventritt
This film was an official selection at the 3rd Phoenix Fear Film Fest in Tempe in 2010. Here's an index to my reviews of 2010 films.
Even more than Dead Creek, the setting of Sinkhole dominates the film but, unlike Dead Creek, I knew about Centralia beforehand. It's a ghost town in Pennsylvania, which is almost empty today because of a fire in 1962, but not just any fire. The accepted story is that the local volunteer fire brigade cleaned up the town's landfill site by burning it, as they'd done many times before. The problem was that this time they didn't quite put out the fire, and that year the landfill was on top of a coal mine. The fire eventually found its way into the mine, which has now been burning for fifty years. Let me repeat that. The mine in Centralia has now been burning for fifty years. People started to notice when the road began to split apart and people started falling into sinkholes, not to mention the local gas station owner finding that the temperature of his underground tank was 172°. Congress allocated relocation funds and in 1992 the state claimed eminent domain.
The whole story is worthy of a film itself, with the irony of firefighters starting a fifty year fire and the human interest in a few evicted townsfolk refusing to leave because they believe that if they do the government will get their mineral rights. Yet what's most cinematic is the location itself, a place I'd only seen in still photos until I saw Sinkhole. Its apocalyptic look is a natural for a horror film, given that much of it is flattened and what's left is literally steaming. The roads in and out have been blocked for half a century. I'm thankful that writer/director Eric Scherbarth visited the town to shoot this short, especially as he conjured up a suitable little tale to set there. It runs a mere thirteen minutes and features only two actors but it nonetheless uses the hellish landscape very appropriately. It starts in literal darkness as a realtor exits a tunnel and ends in figurative darkness as he finds far more than he ever expected to in this unnamed version of Centralia.

Jason Harris is an experienced actor best known for his voice work, which is surprising as he does a fine job visually here, suitably slimy as the broker trying to con a relic out of his land. He looks as utterly out of place in this landscape in his suit, tie and salesman's haircut as Dan Leventritt seems at home there as the man he's trying to con. The pair have nothing in common beyond the location which would drive the two utterly apart if not for the plot which forces the realtor to try to close that gap. The dynamic changes well, Harris driving the story and getting all the early dialogue but gradually ceding the film to Leventritt, who has the last word. This sure ain't Kansas any more, Toto. I only wish everything had got quirkier, wilder and more outré, but it stops when it gets interesting, leaving the quirkiness to the Tom Waits song that closes. There's a peach of a horror movie to be made in Centralia and while this isn't it, it does me nicely for now.

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