Organ Trail (2023) Review
With a title like Organ Trail and a poster featuring a title that literally drips blood, one might think this film is a Bone Tomahawk style tale of cannibals on the frontier. It isn’t. Apparently, there is a video game by the same name as well, a zombified parody of The Oregon Trail, it’s not an adaptation of that either. So what is Organ Trail? For the most part, it’s actually a straight-up, if occasionally brutal and bloody, revenge-themed western with a small amount of horror adjacent happenings near the end.
A family Abby (Zoé De Grand Maison, A Christmas Horror Story, Orphan Black), her father (Mather Zickel, Babylon, Let Us In), mother (Lisa LoCicero, Rush Hour 2, Reno 911!) and brother (Lukas Jann, Cindy’s Diner, Til Death Do Us Part) stumble across the remains of a massacre. There’s one survivor, a young woman named Cassidy (Olivia Grace Applegate, Bite Size Halloween, Blood Fest), left crucified by arrows through her hands, whom they bring back to their camp.
That night those responsible for the slaughter return, a gang of outlaws led by Logan (Sam Trammell, True Blood, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem). They kill everyone except Abby and Cassidy who they take captive. From here it’s a matter of escape, survival, and for Abby, saving the only other remaining member of her family, their horse.
Veteran director Michael Patrick Jann would seem like an odd choice to direct something like Organ Trail, being best known for his work on comedies like Reno 911! And The Stae. And he does seem to have some problems with the script from first time feature writer Meg Turner (Spring Cleaning, Gnaw), pacing being the most obvious one.
Organ Trail runs for an hour and fifty-two minutes and could easily have been considerably shorter. It’s nearly a half hour into the film when the title pops up, and that’s indicative of the way the story plays out. Too many scenes go on longer than needed, and too much time is spent gazing at the snowy Montana wilderness. Yes, it is spectacular, but we don’t need to stop and admire it every few minutes no matter how well Joe Kessler’s (The Mothman Prophesies, Brave New World) cinematography captures its beauty.
There are also several scenes that are just plain unnecessary and should have been combined with others or eliminated entirely. Because, especially in the first hour, as soon the film begins to build up some momentum it seems to bog right back down.
It’s too bad because Organ Trail does have several things that I liked. The film’s action scenes, although too few, are well done. And the killings are frequently gruesome and effectively staged. Even when played for laughs, as when one less than intelligent character fires several shots straight up into the air forgetting they will come back down, there are some nice practical blood and gore effects.
But it’s the deaths played straight that keep Organ Trail from turning into a total disaster. The killing of Abby’s family wouldn’t have been out of place in an above average slasher. Rhys (Nicholas Logan, Samaritan, Summoning Sylvia), the gang’s muscle, is a certifiable sadist and his penchant for making his victims suffer may have helped get the film tagged as horror. But there are no real scares to back the killings up, and in a genre that’s produced the likes of The Wild Bunch, Soldier Blue, and the original Django, sadistic violence alone is not enough to turn a film into horror.
The final ten minutes or so with a villain who’s been beaten, shot, stabbed, set on fire, and by that point looks like one of Freddy Kruger’s ancestors is probably the hook Paramount was using to justify the “horror western” tag. But it’s way too little, way too late, especially since unlike Freddy or Jason there’s nothing supernatural about him, he’s just one mean hombre.
Trimmed to a shorter, faster paced running time and more honestly marketed, Organ Trail could have been a satisfying throwback to the “R” rated westerns of the 70s. But as it stands it’s more of a slog to get to the relatively solid last half hour than I can recommend.