The Secret Village (2013), according to the press release from Vertical Entertainment, is “inspired by real-life events.” The release goes on to proudly proclaim: “Chilling suspense-thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat!” To which I say: “Hogwash!”
Ambitious young journalist Rachel (Ali Faulkner, Butcher Boys) is determined to make a front-page splash by unraveling the mystery behind an outbreak of strange events in a secretive small town located in the scenic Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Outsiders are unwelcome in the insular community and the locals are unwilling to divulge information about the village’s sinister history to inquisitive out-of-towners. Indeed, the townsfolk are so hostile that anyone delving too deeply into the town’s backstory is placing their lives in jeopardy.
However, Rachel convinces Paul, a local (Richard Riehle, Chillerama), to clandestinely meet with her and reveal what he knows about the ominous happenings, stemming from and/or reminiscent of the Salem ergot poisonings of 1666, which coincided with the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The ergot fungus grows on rye and other cereals. Symptoms include seizures, mania or psychosis, headaches, hallucinations and central nervous system damage. Ergot outbreaks have decimated the village’s population at least 100 times since the days of the Salem Witch Trials.
When Paul dies unexpectedly and Rachel’s only other ally, struggling screenwriter Greg (Jonathan Bennett, Pawn) disappears, all leads come to a dead halt and Rachel is left alone to uncover the villagers’ deadly secret… before she becomes the next victim! (I was saddened to see busy character king Riehle killed off so early in the proceedings, as he is easily the best actor in the picture.)
The Secret Village sounds like a dandy little thriller, doesn’t it? If you believed that, you would be wrong. This second effort by director Swamy Kandan was destroyed in the cutting room. The Secret Village‘s jumbled editing turns this 93-minute horror-thriller into a mind-softening endurance contest. At times, the story is so incomprehensible that the viewer even questions if The Secret Village was assembled properly.
The screenplay by Kandan and Jason B. Whittier is almost entirely lacking in narrative sense. Black-robed cult members gather in a cemetery for no apparent reason. Aged, harmless-looking hooded figures wander about the village, their presence unexplained. Occasionally they enter Rachel’s bedroom while she sleeps fitfully. There is no law enforcement presence in the Secret Village: its inhabitants do not recognize the legitimacy of the United States government. They just want to be left alone with their secrets. Rachel is pursued (but never caught) by mysterious strangers, one of whom is intent on injecting a drug into her neck. The music by Robert Folk is unnecessarily – and annoyingly – bombastic.
Produced by Midnight Friends, The Secret Village features elements of horror but does not frighten the viewer in the least. Even if the story were told chronologically, the plot would still be exceedingly dull. One would expect a few scares in a story replete with witches, cemeteries, periodic outbreaks of ergotism causing mass fatalities, cultists… but The Secret Village is entirely devoid of thrills and chills. In fact, the presence of the hooded figures isn’t even explained; nor do they have any impact on the story! As well, no attempt is made to create a mood of dread or the supernatural. Most scenes are flatly lit and take place in reassuring daylight.
The obligatory M. Night Shyamalan-like twist ending resolves a few mysteries and explains Ali Faulkner’s persistent bewildered expression, but strains credibility. It isn’t much of a shock finish for a film that purports to be a horror-mystery-thriller. I hate to trash a movie so thoroughly, but The Secret Village really doesn’t have much going for it. The $2-million budget isn’t all up there on the screen, that’s for sure. Better luck next time, Swamy, if there is a next time.