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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 01.07.21] Canada horror

Canadian director Robert Cuffley's credits over the years have included a wide variety of projects from dramas and comedies to thrillers but they all have one thing in common. They all feature outstanding performances from actors on the verge of a breakout: Katharine Isabelle, Leelee Sobieski, Amanda Crew and most recently Siobhan Williams in Bright Hill Road.

Cuffley's first foray into horror isn't full of jump-scares or gore, the type of horror movie one might expect from a filmmaker looking to make a short-lived splash. Instead, the movie is clearly the work of a filmmaker who values story, character, and focuses on performance to really get at the heart of the thing: in this case, a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown.

Written by author Susie Moloney, Bright Hill Road stars Williams as Marcy, an alcoholic who is barely managing through life. A life-changing incident at work leaves her completely shaken and in a last-ditch effort to get sober, get her life on track or maybe just escape, she packs her bags and recklessly takes off to visit her sister in California. A night of non-stop driving lands her in the parking lot of a run-down motel where she decides to rent a room for a couple of nights, but from the beginning of her stay it's clear that there's something wrong with the Bright Hill Road Boarding House. Is it haunted? Is it the place and the ghosts that inhabit it trying to tell Marcy something? Is this her subconscious trying to sober her up or is she really losing her mind?

Bright Hill Road is a series of progressively creepier scenes with Williams at the centre of everyone, getting more frazzled, terrified, and sober with each passing moment. Williams gives a terrific performance as a woman going through withdrawal and more than just her mental state, her unraveling also comes through in her physical performance and while Williams is key to the effectiveness of the movie, the wildly entertaining appearance from the always wonderful Michael Eklund is not to be overlooked.

While the location, a real-life (and operational!) hotel called the Stavely located just outside Calgary, effortlessly imbues creepiness, Cuffley, cinematographer Robert Riendeau, and production designer Carl Sheldon make excellent use of the location to build tension and combined with Williams' performance, the place feels like the movie's other protagonist.

Bright Hill Road is on the quiet side of the horror movie spectrum, the kind that crawls under your skin and leaves you feeling like you need a shower. I was so taken with it I watched it twice, and while some of the moments aren't as effective the second time around, Williams' performance gets better with repeat viewings.

Bright Hill Road is available on-demand and DVD on Tuesday, January 12.

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