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November 26, 2011

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Hagstone Demon

(2011, Dir. by Jon Springer.)

It's The Sentinel by way of Wes Anderson in The Hagstone Demon, another one of those shockingly interesting indie features to come out of Minnesota over the past few years.  I'm not entirely sure what's in the water up there - I certainly know that it's not helping their football team - but guys like Gregg Holtgrewe, Matt Osterman, Dan Schneidkraut, Todd Cobery, and now Jon Springer should be teaching a course for indie horror filmmakers.  If I were them, I'd call that course "No More Boring Horror Movies 101", because each of the films I've seen from this group stays interesting by bucking the norms we've come to expect from horror films in this day and age. 

Springer's feature, The Hagstone Demon, holds form alongside the films of his indie brethren by balancing oh-so-delicately on the ledge between looking like a studio release and retaining its independent charms.  Shot mostly in black-and-white (with a few color sequences peppered in to make key points more obvious), the film follows the custodian of a condemned property as he deals with strange occurrences like the reappearance of his dead wife, hairless cats, and a string of murders around and/or in the building he presides over.  That building - The Hagstone - appears to have a long and storied history (thanks for that info, random character in the first act!), but the caretaker is an ex-reporter who's more interested in escaping his own demons and keeping his distance from the tenants of the building that's about to expire.

The caretaker is played by Wisconsin born actor Mark Borchardt, who gained some exposure around the turn of the century as the star of hit documentary American Movie.  I haven't seen that film, and thus had little knowledge of Borchardt before the film, but it became easy to see why the former indie filmmaker was a perfect choice for this role.  Borchardt makes the caretaker a realistic hero simply by being the kind of unmotivated young man that we have probably met once or twice in our lives.  But while the character is presented as unkempt and awkward, the film's focus on helping us understand the events that led him to The Hagstone really help flesh out the character well.

The characters and events that surround the caretaker need to be seen to be believed.  I mentioned the wife and the murders already, but The Hagstone is also home to acts of prostitution, naked Satan cults, exhumed corpses, and possibly - as you might have guessed - a demon.  The caretaker does his best to focus on his own issues despite the events around him - at one point he even turns away his attractive and innocent single-mother neighbor because he wants to avoid her problems while dealing with his own - but the film brings things together in unique ways as it moves toward the final act and all the conflicts within it. 

The events of the film's final third seem to borrow a lot from Satanist cinema of the past - we even get a young priest, played by Ghost from the Machine star Sasha Andreev - but everything from the cast to the camerawork is unique enough to make it feel fresh.  A sequence with the building's last remaining resident is full of manic energy that lifts the plot to a new level, and the events that follow are full of appropriate weirdness.  It took me a while to figure out what to expect from the film - which is full of awkward comedy early on and struggles to balance the dark side of its plot at times - but the final turns set a lot of things right.

I really dug The Hagstone Demon, primarily because of how unique it feels in the library of Satan cult films.  It doesn't bring a lot of chills or scares, but there's something to be said for a thoughtful tale of horror that ends with a haunting final image.  Anchored by fine acting from Borchardt and the female leads (I haven't mentioned Nadine Gross or Cyndi Kurtz here, which is a shame considering how much they bring to the film) and an inventive visual presentation, The Hagstone Demon should at least hold the interest of anyone who thought The House of the Devil was a great throwback to horror films gone by.

The Hagstone Demon is now on DVD and Blu-Ray, and I certainly recommend it as a unique tale.  There are story takes some confusing turns as it unfolds, but I think the payoff is worth investigating.  For more information on the film, including purchasing info, make sure to head over to the official site and learn more!


Anonymous said...

Glad you dug this one Mike. It's been awhile since I've seen it and now I want to revisit it.

The Mike said...

Thanks James. I think it was you who I read about this from, so I owe you one!