Tonight, the Nitehawk Cinema is presenting Calvin Lee Reeder’s indie horror flick The Oregonian, a divisive entry from this year’s Sundance.
A young woman (Lindsay Pulsipher) wanders bloodied along a deserted highway and through the ruined small towns of the Pacific Northwest, plagued by near-subliminal flashbacks and -forwards, unmotivated p.o.v. shots, zooms-in on nothing, and a low hum over everything, from empty pulled-over cars and eerily static-y television sets to fields of cattle and wet yellow leaves.
Like the recent giallo homage Amer, The Oregonian could be classified as ambient horror—the American horror flick’s standard-issue ominous soundtrack drone and jarringly sudden editing can make anything scary, and here it’s the pervasive sense of amnesiac subjectivity that gives the jolts, especially in the minimalist first half.
As such, this is a film for genre junkies who’ll appreciate the tropes independent of plot—especially in the second half, with its house-of-horrors slipstream of unrepressed trauma—as well as the references. Both the motifs and technique—the ambience, if you will—owe a heavy debt to Twin Peaks’s quiet/LOUD tonalities and local color manifest in the quaintly freaky supporting cast (though updated for the age of folk bands and flannel), as well as to the haunted mindscape and red-coated tormenter of Don’t Look Now. Horror fans will also get the most out of the mood-puncturing moments of self-awareness, which turn creepy illogic into surrealist sight-gags—for instance, our hero’s spirit guide wears a lumpen green mascot costume throughout.