Someone from Australia will probably have to confirm this for me, but apparently there’s a ghost story involving Lemon Tree Passage road, one where, if a group of teenagers drive really fast down the road, a ghost will appear in the form of a bright light, because a motorcyclist was killed by a bunch of teenagers years earlier. Whether this is a real ghost story or simply made up for the film, it works well enough as a hook for Lemon Tree Passage.
The film follows the exploits of three American tourists — Maya (Jessica Tovey), Sam (Nicholas Gunn), and Amelia (Pippa Black) — who meet two locals — Geordie (Tim Phillipps) and Oscar (Andrew Ryan) — and decide to speed down Lemon Tree Passage road. They see the ghost, but aren’t satisfied. Oscar gets out of the car to do some “roadside reporting.” He’s never heard from again. The ghost is seen, the car speeds past Oscar, and then his phone drops dead. A frantic search ensues, and soon enough more of the group is either dead or missing. What’s going on? Is the ghost real? Is this an elaborate prank? Or is something else afoot?
Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out, won’t you? I’ll say this: this is pretty standard horror movie affair. Weird, incoherent flashbacks tell us that there’s certainly something going on. Traps are set that cause injury and death. Hallucinations are rampant. Ghosts pass by the camera and the characters don’t see them. We’re trying hard to scare the audience, but not necessarily the characters.
By the time you learn exactly what’s happening — and you’ll guess it far before the movie explains it, as those flashbacks aren’t quite as incoherent as the film wants you to think — you’re likely to have stopped caring. Lemon Tree Passage only runs for around 85 minutes, but it feels long. It’s a one-note horror movie, and once it beats that drum enough, you’ll have given up caring. It doesn’t help that it’s also not particularly scary. There won’t be many screams coming from you or anyone you watch it with. Maybe you’ll jump once or twice, but that’s about it.
I feel like it might have been more interesting to focus solely on this ghost story, but that probably would have only worked as a short. To extend it to feature length, something else had to happen. Whether it be a prank or reality, something is most certainly causing all of these horror scenes, and it’s up to our cast to find out — or die. Dying is an option, at least for the less-important member of the cast. You can guess right away who will be alive near the end.
Lemon Tree Passage might have been scarier if the actors — outside Jessica Tovey, who was great — would have bought in a little bit more. Few scenes had the actors looking scared, there’s both overacting and underacting — often back-to-back with one another, and sometimes from the same person — and it was hard to buy at least two of the “Americans” as, well, American, since they were very obviously being played by Australians. Being American didn’t even have any impact on the plot; why not just have it be five local teenagers who want to have a bit of fun?
The film is a little bit stylish, and there are a couple of scenes set up really, really well, but most of the time we’re randomly running around the bushes as the sound design tries to make us feel scared. This is the type of film that feels very much like a debut feature (it is). There is often a lack of logic and the attempts at scaring us aren’t the most solid, but there’s some good work here that will hopefully be built upon the next time out.
Lemon Tree Passage isn’t a particularly good horror movie. It’s not scary enough, first and foremost, often substituting loud noises for genuine scares. The actors don’t buy in to the events that are happening around them, so why should the audience? There’s sometimes a lack of logic to the proceedings, even if there are some wonderfully set up scenes. It feels too long even at a brief 85 (or so) minutes. The main mystery is too easy, even though the film bills it as something that we should care about. This isn’t a success, but it will hopefully give its director the experience necessary to do something better next time.