Six friends take a weekend trip to a remote cabin for a well-deserved study break. One of the friends has finally talked his uncle into lending the cabin to him for a few days. They are looking forward to a weekend of relaxation and a bit of partying. While they are enjoying the cool mountain air and a bonfire, one of the young men is suddenly shot in the chest. As the wounded man stands in shock, he is hit in the head by another bullet, killing him instantly. Stunned, the rest of the group sprint to what they think is the safety of the house, but they soon find out that even the inside of the house isn’t safe from this devious killer.
As the young people desperately move from one room to another trying to find a safe place to hide from the killer, it seems that the madman appears everywhere. Nowhere is safe, especially near a window. Who is randomly attacking this innocent group of students? Is it the weird uncle, who was a sniper in Vietnam? Perhaps it’s the freakish convenience store clerk or his ultra-religious and obviously unbalanced wife. Maybe there’s a connection with the little boy who shows up, claiming to have snuck out of the house to get away from his teenaged sister’s party. All these people know is that it seems every time they try to make a move, the killer has anticipated their plan and is already there.
As the night wears on and the tension is ratcheted up, the survivors–sister, brother, sister’s fiancée, and little boy–hole up in an upstairs room where they realize that they have been locked in by the killer. Suddenly, a mysterious gas begins to seep into the room and soon the foursome become unconscious from the chemical. That’s when the intensity reaches a crescendo. The young woman wakes up tied to a chair only to see her boyfriend and her brother strapped to gurneys. As she slowly regains consciousness, her tormentor tells her she must make a choice: kill one person quickly while they are still unconscious. The death will be painless. However, the other young man will die much more slowly and painfully, and she will be forced to watch.
How do you make a choice between two people you love tremendously, even though the love for them is quite different? How do you choose to kill one person quickly and painlessly thereby condemning the other to a more painful death? Is this some sort of sick joke, or is she really going to be forced into playing this demented game? Perhaps it’s some elaborate test devised by her fiancée to test her love for him, or maybe it’s real. Will she have the courage to kill one of the people she loves before they both awaken, or will she escape in time to save them all? These are the tough questions that are addressed during the final act of the movie.
The Anniversary at Shallow Creek is a taught, tense horror/thriller with a unique story and a couple of creative twists at the end. Although a low-budget indie film, the production quality is quite high (it always seems to be a good move to film in only one major location when you have very little money) and the acting is quite solid. The soundtrack also does a very nice job of manipulating the audience and increasing the tension within the film. The music is eerie and quiet and complements the film very well.
The characters were generally likable which helps the audience identify and sympathize with the kids as they desperately search for a way out of their predicament. A couple of the characters were a bit one-dimensional and stereotyped (the irritating, sex-starved jokester and the obnoxious, uptight virgin), but they are quickly dispatched and we are left with strong, sympathetic characters. I found it a bit unbelievable that the killer seemed to pop up in all the right places and seemed to move in and out of the house with great ease, but writers Eric Fischer and Brianna Lee Johnson–who also star in the film–address this concern in the final act and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. While some of the scenes are a bit too dark to see exactly what’s going on, director Jon D. Wagner generally did a very nice job dealing with a nighttime shoot in a very dark environment. I was also expecting the film to wander into "torture-porn" territory towards the end as I saw the two young men strapped to gurneys, but Wagner deals with these scenes in a way that is filled with tension yet doesn’t stoop to cheap splatter.
The ending ties up all the loose ends nicely in a very unique way while also setting the film up for a possible sequel. I truly enjoyed The Anniversary at Shallow Creek. It is a well-written, deftly directed, taught thriller with a creative plot. Bonus points go out to the filmmakers for creating an intelligent film with characters that can communicate to each other in tense situations without using curse words in every sentence. In fact, while I won’t swear by it, I think I only identified one F-bomb in the entire movie. I’m no prude, but I have to admit that’s refreshing!