Paying fun reverence to those contemporary cinematic works of dark and sweaty southern gothic, Sundown’s grainy newsreel prologue ingeniously blends fact and fiction within the context of the film, setting up the latter-day story and revealing the real-world origins behind the original movie. It then settles into a playfully self-referential opening which sees the original 70s version playing on a makeshift drive-in screen and scaring the bejeezus out of a latter day audience. One of those attending is wholesome local girl Jami (an appealing turn from Addison Timlin) whose jock date will soon to be on the receiving end of a vicious knife attack by a masked killer who bears a striking resemblance to the fictitious villain onscreen. As more copycat murders occur and the close-knit Texan township is sent into a tailspin, Jami teams up with an ex-classmate to uncover who the perpetrator is.
A veteran of Murphy ‘s aforementioned hit US network show, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has certainly learned his trade on the small screen, making a very competent transition here and delivering the requisite scares and ratcheting up the tension to a satisfying degree. He conjures up a strong sense of place which, aside from a couple of contemporary trappings, could almost double for the type of smoky rural landscape from around the time of the original feature. He further pushes that retro vibe through the clever use of older supporting actors like the late Edward Herrmann and Ed Lauter, as well as Alien’s Veronica Cartwright as Jami’s protective grandmother and sole guardian.
After a strong start, it’s unfortunate that the director’s efforts and fun cinematic trimmings are ultimately stymied by a narrative that gradually runs out of steam before the same old stalk and slash machinations are wheeled out. At one point in proceedings, the two lead characters track down the creepy ‘son’ of Charles B. Pierce, the original director of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. We discover he has been trying to capitalise on his father’s success, making a living cranking out merchandise to appease a loyal fanbase. It’s a fascinating moment in the film commenting on the attempts at keeping a legacy alive, which is also underscored in a much more extreme fashion via the murderous acts committed throughout. If only the makers had continued in that thoughtful vein for the entirety of the film.