AUTUMN ROAD movie poster | ©2021 Gravitas Ventures

AUTUMN ROAD movie poster | ©2021 Gravitas Ventures

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Lorelei Linklater, Riley Cusick, Justin Meeks, George Welder, Jordan Wright, Ranger Lerway, Maddie Lea, Jonas Lerway, Lar Park Lincoln
Writer: Riley Cusick
Director: Riley Cusick
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Release Date: November 23, 2021

AUTUMN ROAD represents a major challenge for filmmaker Riley Cusick. Not only does Cusick write and direct, but he also stars as twin brothers Charlie and Vincent. Given all he’s taking on, Cusick does an admirable job with all but one of these tasks.

We first meet Charlie (played as a young teen by Ranger Lerway) and Vincent (played as a youth by Jonas Lerway) while their dad is still running Carnival Black, the local haunted house attraction in their small Texas town. Charlie is shy and self-doubting; Vincent is confident and protective of his brother.

Winnie (Maddie Lea), the same age as the boys, is a big fan of Carnival Black. It seems like the whole town is big on spookiness overall; even the coffee shop is called Boo.

Winnie is very fond of Charlie – and has a food allergy. When Winnie disappears on Halloween night, there’s a strong hint that Vincent is responsible, and Charlie is keeping quiet about it.

Flash forward to adulthood. Young actress Laura (Lorelei Linklater) is having trouble booking gigs even in low-budget, unimaginative horror. After tragedy strikes in the big city, Laura returns to her hometown, though she puts off seeing her mother at first.

Vincent and Charlie have now taken over running Carnival Black from their late father. Charlie wants to keep things as they are, while Vincent wants to innovate. The Carnival Black employees/cast are wary of Vincent, who does things like smacking the patrons around.

Laura meets the twins. Like Winnie before her, she takes to Charlie and has reservations about Vincent.

Cusick has a good visual sense as a director, and also knows how to quietly escalate tension. As an actor, he is credible as both Charlie and Vincent, delineating their differences well.

Other performers are also solid, with Linklater very sympathetic as a woman at loose ends and in pain.

Where AUTUMN ROAD doesn’t fully work is in the plotting and the writing. This is an oddly straightforward thriller, in which pretty much everything is exactly what it seems to be, except for what appear to be mistakes.

There’s no discussion of how, in what appears to be such a small community, Carnival Black has kept going year after year. A character who apparently quits the Carnival is likewise back with no explanation (and no story impact).

With filmmaker Cusick playing both roles as twins, we’re primed for some deliberate on-camera mistaken identity, but that never happens either. Events that ought to have tangible consequences sometimes do not.

There are fun animated opening credits, and an effective autumnal mood all the way through. But there’s also a sense that AUTUMN ROAD was shot before its makers had filled in all the narrative blanks.

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