Arrow in the Head reviews Organ Trail, a horror Western directed by Michael Patrick Jann and starring Zoé De Grand Maison
PLOT: The surviving member of a family massacred by bandits tries to escape from the killers with her family’s horse.
REVIEW: Studios and production companies will often try to get around marketing their horror releases as straightforward horror movies. This is how we get the term “elevated horror”. It’s a marketer’s way of trying to get across the idea that the horror movie they’re promoting isn’t your average horror movie. This is something special, a movie to be held up above that other trash called horror. Given this aversion to accepting the horror label, it’s surprising to see that Paramount has chosen to market director Michael Patrick Jann’s cleverly titled Organ Trail (inspired by the real life Oregon Trail, a wagon route that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon back in the 1800s) as a “Horror Western”… because by doing so, they have slapped the horror brand on a movie that I wouldn’t have considered to be a horror movie otherwise.
Organ Trail does have its share of corpses and bloodshed, and it has a band of bloodthirsty bandits traversing the snow-covered countryside, but rarely did its moments of tension or violence have me thinking, “Wow, this really is a horror movie!” Horror didn’t cross my mind until the film had almost reached the end credits, and that was only because one of the bandits turned up after unexpectedly surviving an event that looked like it should have been the end of him. He has the resiliency of a slasher.
Jann could have learned further into horror territory, could have made the film more intense… but he usually leans the other way. Organ Trail is a movie with such an achingly slow pace, for most of its way-too-long running time it feels like Jann was more interested in making his Western a ponderous arthouse movie. The screenplay written by Megan Turner could have served as the basis for something much more impactful, with a quicker pace. 112 minutes weren’t necessary to let this story play out; it probably could have been brought to the screen as a lean and mean movie with a running time of 90 minutes or less. And it would have been a lot more interesting and entertaining if it had.
The setting is Montana, 1870. A family of four – Zoé De Grand Maison as our lead character Abby, plus Mather Zickel, Lisa LoCicero, and Lukas Jann – flee from a blizzard only to come across the scene of a massacre. There’s one survivor: Olivia Grace Applegate as Cassidy, who has been left to die with her hands pinned down with arrows. The family saves her, patches her up, takes her into their camp… and in the night, the four bandits who carried out the massacre (Sam Trammell, Nicholas Logan, Alejandro Akara, and Michael Abbott Jr.) show up and do the same to Abby‘s family. They take Abby and Cassidy back to their base of operations – and from there, the movie slowly tells the story of Abby‘s attempt to get free of her family’s murderers… while hoping to hold on to her family’s horse, which she considers to be her last remaining family member.
There are bursts of action and violence here and there, and characters played by the likes of Clé Bennett, Jessica Francis Dukes, and Thomas Lennon also get mixed up in this bad situation along the way. But while those moments of action and violence are refreshing, and while Jann and cinematographer Joe Kessler made sure that Organ Trail is a nice movie to look at, it all happens way too slowly and the character interactions are either too low-key or (when the bandits are talking to each other) too irritating.
I like Westerns and I like horror movies, and I enjoy when elements of the two get mixed together. I wish horror Westerns would get made more often. But regardless of whatever genre labels you want to put on Organ Trail, I didn’t have much fun watching it. I found it to be quite dull. There are some good ideas in there, but the lumbering execution wasn’t right for the story.
Paramount is giving Organ Trail a digital release on May 12th.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/organ-trail-review/