Highway To Horror Heaven Or Road To Nowhere? Darren Gaskell Reviews Clinton Road (2018)

Clinton Road opens with the following text and voiceover: “There is a ten mile stretch of road in New Jersey which has gained notoriety over the years. Legends of murders, hauntings, the occult and of the paranormal surround the area. It is considered one of the most haunted places in the United States.”

Okay, nice. I’m in. Of course, then there’s one final line of text: “Inspired by true events”. Okay, I’m still in, even if “inspired by true events” quite often means “pretty much nothing like the true events by which it was inspired”. No matter, let’s get the ghostly action going.

And there’s promise of said action right from the off as a terrified woman flails through the wood, almost certainly being pursued by someone – or something. Cut to black. Scream. Opening credits. Which reveal that the cast includes Vincent Pastore (great as Big Pussy on The Sopranos) and Ice-T (oh, come on, I don’t have to explain who Ice-T is).

Well, turns out that both guys appear early in the proceedings at a nightclub where Michael has gathered with his sister and a group of friends as they plan to visit the spot where Michael’s wife Jessica – screaming pre-credit woman, as it turns out – has disappeared. They’re also taking along a psychic called Begory who bears the scars of possible previous contact with the spirit world.

The opening 20 minutes, set mostly in said nightclub, does at least include a fun scene in which Ice talks about the notoriety of Clinton Road, warning our heroes not to go anywhere near the place. This is the best performance you’re going to get in this film, unfortunately. The rest of the set-up is a series of conversations between characters as they enjoy a few drinks and pop into the restrooms.

Not longer afterwards, our group is at the spot where Jess disappeared and…no, hold on, let’s rewind a little to a couple of minutes earlier, still at the nightclub, Outside it, in fact, to take in a cameo from Eric Roberts which serves no other purpose than to get Eric Roberts in the movie.

Fine by me, I like Eric Roberts, but his one scene is about a girl initially denying him entry to the club, then realising he’s fine to come in – well, it’s Eric Roberts – and apologising. Eric Roberts is cool about the whole thing. It doesn’t move the story on one little but, you know, Eric Roberts.

Kind of hoped there’d a be a huge twist at the end and Eric Roberts ended up being one of the ghosts in the woods but no such luck. Yes, that’s a spoiler but what were the chances of that actually happening in this film?

Anyhoo, back to the woods where it’s quickly established there’s no phone reception and a very odd Ranger turns up to point out there’s no camping or fires and that they should stick to the road. The sort of Ranger who just disappears into thin air, like he does here? You don’t think that maybe that Ranger could be…..? Nah, surely not.

So Begory communes with the spirits, which involves him rolling around and twitching quite a bit while the rest of the cast say “Is this normal?” over and over. From Gianna’s reaction it seems that it’s not normal and that’s good for the horror hound as gory, spectral-induced death can only be waiting just around the corner.

Spectral-induced death? Oh yes. Gory? Oh no. The nastiest demise of the following is implied by means of blood dripping from the murder weapon and most of the the other victims either perish off camera or are dispatched with nary a single drop of claret.

This would not matter one little bit if Clinton Road had built up a fair bit of suspense prior to gradually reducing its cast but there’s frustratingly little tension here as our characters wander around a supposedly haunted place like it’s their back garden, chatting about what other people think of them and twigging way too late that they’re being picked off by a gang of spirits.

Well, when I say gang, the body count’s pretty much down to a phantom ironworker – who cuts an imposing figure without the movie ever really playing to that strength – and a spooky little girl. The spooky little girl’s powers appear to be shrieking and moving at a speed which no human being can escape. Unless they’re walking at anything faster than a dawdle.

There’s no particular explanation of the spirits’ motivation for taking lives. They appear, someone dies, they move on to the next potential victim. The kills punctuate a great deal of screaming and running through woodland but they’re not the shocking exclamation points you’d expect as the cast is almost apologetically whittled down.

As much as the second half of Clinton Road attempts to be a waking nightmare, the jumps between the natural and the supernatural are too jarring to be effective and the proceedings don’t even lift themselves come the climax, at which point you may feel little the wiser about the trip you’ve just taken.

I watched this three times, convinced I’d missed something. And maybe I have but, as someone possibly should have said to Michael at the beginning of this, perhaps it’s time to let go. What I hoped would be a fun, spooky ride turned out to be a journey I should I have passed up. Ice-T gets the movie an extra half point though because, hey, it’s Ice-T and it’s my review.

Rating: 1.5 / 5

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Happy to chat with you on your podcast/whatever if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

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