Genre mash-up is a commonly used practice in storytelling to give an otherwise tired concept a fresh spin. When done well, like seen in such classic mash-ups as Alien or The Evil Dead series, the combination of genres allows a story access to a variety of tropes and possibilities it would otherwise never have had. Anthony DiBlasi’s Cassadaga is a genre mash-up that does it right.
DiBlasi’s second feature-length film follows the story of Lily (Kelen Coleman), a young, deaf woman with a love for art, who travels to Cassadaga, Florida after grieving the loss of her teenage sister. While studying at the local university, Lily meets a young father named Mike (Kevin Alejandro) and visits a psychic on their first date. After attempting to contact the spirit of her sister, Lily accidentally awakens the vengeful ghost of a young woman. Latching itself to Lily, the ghost will not allow her to leave the town and seems to appear most often in the old house that Lily is renting from a woman and her grandson. When Mike and Lily discover the ghost is of a girl that had lived in the house previously and went missing, they set out to find her killer to let her spirit rest.
Equal parts Silence Of The Lambs and Insidious, DiBlasi’s Cassadaga finds a way to combine the serial-killer-mystery and ghost-film genres to not only do justice to both elements, but blend them into its own cohesive story. The only issues that are apparent are more based in the character development than the rest of the story. Lily’s hearing loss, due to meningitis, only holds any kind of importance in the story once or twice, but otherwise feels tacked on as a trait solely created to make her different from other female leads in the horror genre. The concept of the “Geppetto” killer is one that also puts a new spin on a familiar concept as we see a far more grotesque take on mental trauma and sexual confusion turned to psychosis. The story is paced well enough that it never drags, but at times also feels like its trying to move too fast when aspects like paintings of ghostly images get mentioned as if they are an after-thought, then suddenly become integral parts of the plot. Finally, there is a scene after the credits of the film that feels very out of place and opens the story up for a sequel that isn’t needed. Despite these few issues, the movie is still one with enough intrigue and jump scares to can keep one’s attention and interest piqued.
DiBlasi’s visual style relies a lot on color and lighting to create tone for the audience. Dark shadows and washed out colors represent Lily’s disconnected nature after her sister’s death, while the dingy and gross yellow tints of Geppetto’s workshop/dungeon cause a sense of disgust and dread. The tonal shifts are all carefully tuned to the color palette. There is very little in the way of heavy set-lighting outside of the dungeon/workshop set, which brings a more realistic look to most scenes. The sound design carries an interesting responsibility of both creating the world around Lily as well as connecting the audience to her by choosing what not to include in order to paint the picture of living as a deaf person.
Cassadaga is a clever and fun combination of genres. It finds a way to balance a loyalty to both the haunted house horror concept as well as the intrigue and mystery of a murder investigation. It never sacrifices too much of one for the other. With a few flaws in editing and pacing that feels like aspects of story were sacrificed for time, the movie is still a very enjoyable ride for fans of both genres, or for a fan of one to be exposed to the other. DiBlasi may have strayed farther into the spiritual and mystical horror than he has before, but it is a place he is more than welcome to journey to again.