Sarah (Eleonora Saravalle) is a shy college girl recovering from an unfortunate break-up. She invites some friends to a weekend birthday bash at her stepfather’s remote cabin a few hours from their homes in Los Angeles. Her friend Connie (Chloe Caemmerer) wants to make it a memorable weekend and plans something a little more hardcore than Sarah had in mind. Connie invites her new boyfriend, musician Matt (Rane Thomason), who brings his own raucous posse. Unfortunately, that posse includes Alex (Oliver Rotunno), Sarah’s ex. Awkward.
Then Sarah’s stepbrother, Jacey (Daniel Olguin) and his cold girlfriend, Tala (Shiah Luna), show up unannounced, thinking the cabin would be a good spot for their getaway. Awkward.
Then … in the light of a full moon … partygoers start going missing. The order in which they disappear happens to correspond to a game the group found in the cabin — a storytelling game about a werewolf and some witches. Something — or someone — seems to be stalking them in the dark, leaving wolf-like tracks and blood smears. Is it just the extraordinary edibles the group ingested at the start of the night or are they being slowly slaughtered by a supernatural specter?
As the Village Sleeps is a competent horror-thriller from director Terry Spears and writer Chloë Bellande. Although low-budget, it makes the most out of its remote setting and a cast of attractive young people frantically trying not to die. Spears is smart to shoot around the monster stuff, never giving a full glimpse of the implied werewolf or any dead bodies. Leaving horror up to the imagination is more effective if the alternative is unconvincing gore and make-up. There are jump-scare moments that work in the same way The Blair Witch Project did back in the day.
The cast does a good job of making each character stand out as they lose their minds (and maybe their lives). Each of the young adults fits into general archetypes of the slasher genre. There’s a brash braggart (Matt), a Final Girl (Sarah), some boyfriends, some cannon-fodder friends who exist to die, a “class clown” type. None of this is a knock on Village, which uses the tools in the slasher toolbox to its advantage. There’s a reason why they work.
As the Village Sleeps, like most lower-budget horror films, is flawed in a few common ways. The soundtrack is the most frustrating. It’s often entirely incongruous with the emotion onscreen. I like electronic beats as much as anyone; hell, I dig the disco version of Manfredini’s Friday the 13th 3-D. But there’s a time and a place, and the score just doesn’t hit the mark here. Additionally, the “haunted card game” element of the horror story is somewhat hard to understand and a little over-complicated. With effective scare beats and comfortable but interesting characters, As the Village Sleeps has enough going for it as a low-key pick-’em-off horror show that I barely remembered the point or purpose of the card game by the end of the narrative.
Still, this is a pretty cool horror story, told with a lot of enthusiasm by the cast and cleverly filmed for maximum effect.