Exploring the dynamic between a group of friends way past their college heyday is somewhat unusual for a cabin-in-the-woods story. Usually amassed with character archetypes like the rowdy jock, virgin that survives and the blonde bombshell, being trapped in a creaky old shack typically results in some wild partying, the frivolity of which usually leaves most participants dead.
Caitlin Koller’s feature debut 30 Miles From Nowhere however, decides to tackle what comes after the glory days, when a group of old college-grads are forced to reunite for the funeral of their friend Max, whose sudden suicide has left them all confronting their own lives and questioning ‘where did it all go wrong?’ Shacked up in rural Wisconsin in a stunning A-Line cabin they frequented in their youth, Larry (Rob Benedict), Bess (Kathy Shim), Elaine (Seana Kofeod), Paul (William Smillie), Jack (Postell Pringle) and his new girlfriend Amber (Marielle Scott) are more than concerned by the presence of Max’s unhinged widow Sylvia (Carrie Preston) who manically informs them about just how remote the cabin is; “God forbid we ever have a real emergency, we’ll be decomposing by the time the cops get here!”
If the dead rats fetched in by Max’s old cat weren’t enough, the cabin also has disturbing tendencies like blood spouting from the shower head and cockroaches infesting the bed. Seemingly too drunk to notice a number of these events, the group drink themselves into confessional mode and address the various problems they have with each other and the route their adult lives have taken. While the film is twinged with comedic notes and gags, the majority of the characters feel lived-in, particularly Bess and Elaine (Seana Kofeod is also the films writer) whose struggles with the expectations placed upon women feel particularly relevant. The pulsing connection between the group and their previous histories with each other unravel in correlation with the increasingly horrific events within the cabin in a deconstruction of both their relationships and the building that housed so many positive memories for them.
In the middle of this debacle is Sylvia, who feels so extradited from the group her mere presence on screen is uncomfortable, her actions and impossibly calm demeanour become a wary source of concern. Carrie Preston plays the role out with such vigour and deranged politeness in a standout role. While the women largely feel complex, some of the men are unfortunately left to stereotype, Rob Benedict’s Larry could have been plucked from essentially any ensemble horror film from 1995-2019.
One of the films greatest successes are its subtleties, Koller’s ability to not give in to an Evil Dead style bloodbath finale makes complete sense by the time the credits roll, a smart and unexpected ending to make space for that appreciation of realism when reflecting back on the film. The concern is that horror fans looking for that extra showstopper moment and a film full of impressive effects may have switched off by the point the films ultimate goal is revealed.
Impressively boasting a 50/50 cast and crew of men and women, 30 Miles from Nowhere seems like a step in the right direction for the horror genre, appreciating the appeal of largely well-written characters on an even playing field. Detail oriented viewers will undoubtedly get a kick from their patience payoff in the films finale, as long as they are willing to endure the characters hashing out their differences for the first hour of its runtime.
30 Miles From Nowhere is released on DVD and Digital on March 5th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here