In the Coleman Brothers’ folk horror/revenge feature The Burned Over District (2022), Will (John Harvey Sheedy) blames himself for the death of his wife (Sarah Santizo) in a car accident, and he is grieving hard at the rural New York house that he now lives in alone. His sister Katie (Amy Zubieta) is doing her best to be supportive, while the siblings’ mother Michelle (Connie Near) is quite caustic. Michelle won’t be a problem for long, though, and Will will have plenty more to worry about when Katie stumbles on a religious cult making a human sacrifice — none other than Michelle — in the nearby woods. And the zealots mean to make further trouble for the siblings.
Cowriters/codirectors James Coleman and Vincent Coleman take familiar horror film tropes — Can any of the locals be trusted, or is everyone a cult member? Can Sibling A rescue imperiled Sibling B? — and take them in mind-bending new directions. Another plus is that the cult members here are not the typical bunch of Old Testament fanatics, but rather some obsessed people with a truly sinister agenda. The dialogue is well-written and at times sparse, and even the verbal predictions of the cult — which, as many previous horror films have shown, can come off as quite corny — sound sinister here. The drama building up characters in the first act is nicely done and played, with Sheedy leading the way in an all-out performance, Zubieta giving a fine costarring turn, and the supporting players all contributing solid work.
Another high point of The Burned Over District is the film’s stunning array of wild visuals and eerie imagery. This begins in the opening moments showing the immediate aftermath of the car crash and elevates maniacally once Michelle is sacrificed. The creepy moments are not limited to scenes using special effects — which are well rendered, both practical and CGI — but there are skin-crawling moments using simply good old fashioned suggestion, as well.
With their first feature film — after several shorts including three Halloween: Inferno fan films — the Coleman Brothers deliver a gritty, gripping cinematic roller coaster that takes viewers to unexpected places, and looks great doing so.(3.5 / 5)
The Burned Over District is currency on the film festival circuit.