A young couple moves into an old farmhouse, only to experience a series of strange events. Is the ghost of a missing child reaching out for help from beyond the grave? In capable hands, Grindstone Road (2008), written by Paul Germann and directed by Melanie Orr, had the potential to be an entertaining (if not very original) horror film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even rise to the level of a made-for-TV movie.
Melanie Orr is a script supervisor (oversees a film’s continuity) who has directed episodes for a number of television shows. Grindstone Road was her sophomore effort. Paul Germann is a sound effects editor who has written a grand total of one film. Grindstone Road must have been so bad he never got another script optioned. It was like he had a weird dream and decided to make a movie out of it.
Somehow they tricked Fairuza Balk into starring in their cliched and mediocre Canadian horror film. Balk appeared in some popular movies in the ’90s, including The Craft (1996), American History X (1998), and The Waterboy (1998), then dropped off the public’s radar. She always embraced “alternative” roles, and wears a goth-ish outfit for one scene in this movie, but otherwise plays a conventional housewife. That’s like asking Jackson Pollock to paint an idyllic country cottage. It’s just not right.
As bad as Grindstone Road is, at least it has an interesting story. Wracked with guilt over a car accident that left her son Daniel (Felix Pennell) in a deep coma, Hannah (Fairuza Balk) begins having strange experiences in her new home. Her husband, Graham (Greg Bryk), is oblivious and blames the antidepressants she takes to help ease the pain. Their neighbors, an elderly couple named Ted (Walter Learning) and Linda (Joan Gregson), alert them to the possibility their house is haunted.
Hannah discovers a young boy, also named Daniel (Dylan Authors), disappeared while living in the house and may have been abused by his parents. John Dodson (Zachary Bennett), a mysterious man who only Hannah can see, serves as a red herring to deflect attention from the real villains. Since there are only a handful of characters, you can probably guess who they are. It was refreshing to see elderly antagonists, although the religious motivation behind their crimes is eye-rolling.
With a budget of $1.5 million, there’s really no excuse for the film to be this bad. Daniel’s character looks like they slapped flour and black lipstick on his face. There are plenty of examples of decent horror movies with ghosts that look like regular people. They could have used context clues, lighting, or even an interesting costume to indicate he was a ghost, anything but this awful makeup. John Dodson is also a ghost, but goes makeup-free. I guess that’s to trick the audience into thinking he’s a living, breathing character.
There is one captivating scene in which Hannah struggles to get out of a noose while hanging from the basement rafter. It looks real and it looks like Fairuza Balk did the scene herself.
Filmmakers treat the horror genre as an excuse to make low quality films, and this check-the-box ghost story is no exception. Despite veteran leads (Greg Bryk also appeared in A History of Violence, Shoot ‘Em Up, and a number of TV shows), Grindstone Road is the Halloween equivalent of a Hallmark Channel Christmas story. It currently has an 18 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can watch it for free on YouTube.