Cain Hill (2017) is one of those rare independent horror gems that makes the constant trawl through contemporary formulaic fare worth it. If you combine the masked killer from Adam Green’s Hatchet (2006) with the abandoned asylum setting of Marcus Nispel’s Exeter (2015), and add the realistic dialogue, characterisation and camaraderie from The Phoenix Tapes ‘97 (2016), the resulting pulpy mixture would be Cain Hill. This is low budget, high quality horror that leaves the viewer excited for further films from its creators.
The premise is simple: a group of filmmakers lock themselves inside Cain Hill, the dilapidated asylum building that is now home to local legends, hoping to document some of the strange occurrences reported by the neighbouring town. Said to be haunted by former inmates, particularly the figure of murderous inmate Chester Lockhart, the team soon discover that they should have paid heed to the locals’ warnings to stay well away.
A testament to classic horror, with clear influences from Italian gialli, American slashers, and even a dash of British Hammer horror, the film is shot incredibly well; director Gene Fallaize captures the angles of the abandoned building to incite atmosphere, aided by the cool blue/gray pallor of the shots, and a striking play on light and shadows.
The usual downfall with independent horror is that the writing and its delivery falls short; limited in their use of effects and narrative due to tighter financial strings, the writing and acting in lower budget horror fare must often act as a solid foundation in order to support such restrictions. Cain Hill possesses realistic dialogue and strong performances that, as a result, generate believable relationships that are quickly established and leave you genuinely concerned for the characters.
Developed from the original story by Michael James Dean, Fallaize, Tony Cook, and Phil Martin’s script contains some wonderful moments, particularly a well-placed reference to Ghostbusters (1984). However, it in is in the dialogue, and it’s recital, that the film’s writing truly shines: the relationship between old friends Marcus (Jason York) and single father Richard (Edward Elgood) is evident from the initial scenes, and develops organically as the pair interact with other characters and the audience learns more of their backstories. Other highlights among the notable performances include Tony Cook’s natural turn as producer Leonard, Ben Mansbridge’s comedic and sympathetic role as Steve, and Hannah Jacob’s nuanced take on researcher Mary.
A central performance is of course that of Chester Lockhart, played to striking effect by Phill Martin. The film cleverly uses his imposing silhouette to generate tension, his shadow bleeding from the darkness of the long corridors to stalk the group as they wander throughout the house. A nod to classic slasher bogeyman Michael Myers (Halloween, 1978), the film is an exercise in tension and atmosphere that pulls back from the contemporary crutches of jump scares.
Cain Hill proves what can be accomplished on a meagre budget of £18,000 in the exciting arena of new independent horror, and boasts a bright future for its creators and stars.