Lonely Joe | Film Review

Old Ghosts
Michael C. Riedlinger

            Ghost stories never get old. The recent spat of Japanese horror film remakes in America have mostly been based around retelling old ghost stories, and some of the better psychological horror films in our country have been based on homegrown campfire tales and occult studies. Everything from the Bell Witch to “the white lady” have been fair game in film and television the last few years. The reason these stories keep popping up is because they are usually effective, and Michael Coonce’s Lonely Joe is no exception.

            Premiering at the Lake County Film Festival this past weekend, Lonely Joe is a solid first film from newcomer Coonce. The story follows Michele Connelly (horror alum Erica Leerhsen) as she tries to uncover the truth about several disappearances in her hometown. The local police really don’t want another reporter snooping around and seem to know more than they let on. All of the mysterious goings on seem to occur near a farm where Michele’s brother was killed a decade earlier by Joe Gainard, the local Ed Gein. As she digs deeper into the case, Michele finds it harder and harder to stay away from the site, but when she visits the farm, even the man living there now (James Zahn of Fangoria and Death Walks the Streets) tells her that he won’t venture out past his own orchard.

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            Now, we as an audience know that this is a ghost problem, but Coonce does a great job of convincing us that it might not be a ghost after all. The sheriff, when finally forced to tell Michele what he thinks is going on, has a surprisingly fresh take on the situation for a character in a horror film. He points out that it doesn’t matter what is making people disappear, only that they do so with such regularity when visiting the site that it makes no sense to keep sending anyone out there. His reason for running off reporters is that he doesn’t want to popularize what can only be a guaranteed death trap for thrill seekers who would look to tempt fate. Ah, if only the hero of this film were as wise! Eventually, Michele finds herself out on the railroad tracks behind the farm, and all the red herrings are put to rest with a satisfying, if somewhat typical, explanation. The twists and turns Coonce presents are all deftly handled, and the editing and music combine to provide a few well-timed startles. Toss in some beautiful camera shots of upstate New York and you end up with a very effective and enjoyable thriller.

            My only complaint about the film is some of the casting. Erica Leerhsen is a treat to watch, and Peter Speach is great as Sheriff Scoggins. That said, Matthew S. Harrison’s character, Michele’s old boyfriend Ben, just isn’t believable. Harrison seems as if he phones in his lines from beyond the grave in some scenes, and he looks twenty years too old to have ever dated Leerhsen in high school. This inevitably detracts from the film a little, but thankfully the guy only has a few scenes. Coonce seems to have recognized this, as the actor receives bottom billing in the final credits. All in all, even the wooden acting of one man can’t ruin a film like this. Lonely Joe is doing the festival circuit for now, and should hit DVD sometime in May.

Final Verdict (out of 5):