Period pieces generally aren’t a big draw for me. But Michael Patrick Jann’s Organ Trail isn’t most period pieces. Organ Trail is a gruesome horror-western that serves up a dynamic cast of characters and a killer denouement. Accordingly, I had a great time with this over-the-top effort.
Organ Trail follows Abigale Archer (Zoé De Grand Maison), who is trekking the Oregon Trail with her family. Their peaceful existence is rudely interrupted when a gang of outlaws kills Abigale’s mother, father, and brother. The opportunistic thieves, however, find that they have bitten off more than they chew by crossing the young woman. Abigale has a few tricks of her own up her sleeve and gives the outlaws a serious run for their money.
Based on the playful title, I expected the flick to be campy and lighthearted. And it is at times. But this picture plays it straight a lot more than I was anticipating. And that works to its advantage. By striking a slightly more serious tone, the film is able to flesh out its cast of characters and deliver some meaningful exchanges that give us cause to invest in the protagonists.
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The film’s characters are surprisingly memorable. Sam Trammell of True Blood fame and famed comedic actor Thomas Lennon (Reno 911) both turn in entertaining showings. Lennon’s screentime is brief but he makes the most of it. And Trammell is almost unrecognizable from his well-known role on True Blood. His accent, mannerisms, and speech patterns are far removed from his tenure on the HBO vampire series.
It’s not just the male characters that are noteworthy, however. In fact, the female characters frequently eclipse their male counterparts. In spite of being doubted by the men in their lives, the ladies manage to hold their own and kick an impressive amount of ass. Throughout her journey, Abigale proves to be resourceful and tough. Zoé De Grand Maison brings the character to life with aplomb and makes Abigale a protagonist worth investing in.
Though women weren’t always treated as equals circa 1870, it’s rather refreshing to see that dynamic downplayed here. In one scene, a male character makes the assertion that “women in this house can speak for themselves.” So, while feminist ideals may not have been at the forefront of culture in the days of the covered wagon, it’s a pleasant surprise to see the era reimagined in a more progressive fashion. Just because our society has been historically ass-backward doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t imagine the past as it might have been on occasion.
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Liberties are taken with some of the exchanges between the cast. Some of the dialogue seems more akin to the way people talk today. For example, I am fairly certain that the term ‘fuckery’ wasn’t coined until far more recently. But I interpreted that as an intentional stylistic choice, rather than a careless oversight. And I think it serves to inject some humor into the proceedings that may have otherwise been lacking.
Organ Trail marks screenwriter Meg Turner’s first feature-length screenplay. But their understanding of narrative structure and knack for creating entertaining characters has me quite keen to see what they do next. Turner revealed that they came up with the title for the film before the screenplay had been written. It all came about when they Googled the Oregon Trail video game but misspelled the title. Thinking Organ Trail sounded like a good name for a horror screenplay. That happy accident saw Turner eventually coming up with an idea that they loosely described as Little House on the Prairie if it were written by Quentin Tarantino. And I think that’s a fairly accurate summation.
If you’re keen to check out Organ Trail, it is currently playing in select theaters and will bow on digital on May 12. If the idea of a blood-soaked western in the vein of The Hateful Eight or Bone Tomahawk piques your curiosity, I would suggest giving Organ Trail a shot.
‘Organ Trail’ delivers the gore and a likable cast of characters.
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