[Review] ORGAN TRAIL (2023) a Cinematic Journey Worth Taking

You read the title, see the blood-dripping poster, and think, Organ Trail must be a movie about cannibalism on the prairie, a kind of Donner party dinner film where people trapped in the snow are forced to eat each other (in gruesome detail) to survive.

That is a fine idea for a movie, but it’s not this movie.

This Organ Trail, directed by Michael Patrick Jann (Drop Dead Gorgeous), is the thrilling story of a family heading west in a covered wagon who run into danger so insane that they may well wish they’d only had to deal with eating each other.

Jann, and screenwriter Meg Turner, have fun toying with those people eating expectations during the opening scenes of Organ Trail. The landscape is bone-chillingly bleak, shot beautifully by cinematographer Joe Jessler (Reno 911!: Miami), and it’s clear that the family members, all looking pale and practically emaciated, are not cut out to be pioneers. You just feel in your bones watching them that the next bad snowstorm will be their last.

But then something weird happens. The family stumbles upon a gory murder scene where a different family seems to have been massacred by an Indian war party. There is one survivor, however, a barely alive woman, whom they take back to their camp to try and save.

Big mistake.

Just as they toy with expectations gathered from the title and the poster, Jann and Turner now start to play with the audience like cats playing with mice. Almost nothing that happens in Organ Trail is predictable. Characters you think are driving the story end up dead. New characters get introduced (and end up dead). Some die intentionally; some die accidentally. All die in highly unpleasant ways. It starts to get hard to root for a good guy or boo a bad guy because you just don’t know what will happen to them next, and that is one of the things that makes Organ Donor so much fun to watch.

The other thing that makes it fun is the talent of the cast assembled for the film. Sam Trammell (True Blood) is quite effective as the erudite leader of the bad guys, who can quote Shakespeare as he kills. Olivia Grace Applegate and Zoé De Grand Maison are equally good at playing the female protagonists of the picture, primarily because of the depth they bring to their characters, which makes them and their reactions to any given circumstance unpredictable and exciting.

And then there’s Nicholas Logan (I Care A Lot), the brutal baldheaded bad guy who can not feel anything physically or (seemingly) emotionally. While he may seem one-dimensional – psychotic – there’s more to the mayhem he creates than simply upping the body count. There is a twisted motive behind his madness, which he desperately wants in his mind even though he can’t feel it in his heart.

With its lack of cannibalism or even spilling guts, Organ Trail may not live up to its title, but it’s still a cinematic journey worth taking. There are plenty of thrills, kills, and scenes where director Jann and his cast gleefully turn audience expectations on their heads.

  • John Black, Organ Trail
John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.