BLACKSTOCK BONEYARD ** USA 2021 Dir: Andre Alfa. 80 mins
Southern Noir has been a genre unto itself; along, perhaps, with Southern Horror. Those goings on in the swamps, plantations, roads, hidden cabins and police jails transplant urban fears to a section of the country. BLACKSTOCK BONEYARD (2021) is an odd film for me since it mixes social messages with standard rising dead killings. The story is not the creatures but the people that are caught in the events. The film chooses to make them clichés of Southern people with little in the way of interesting virtues.
BLACKSTOCK BONEYARD (2021) serves itself up as a true story. The film is set in South Carolina with the 1913 conviction and execution of Thomas and Meeks Griffin, who were said to have killed a veteran of the Confederate army. The brothers were wealthy Black farmers. It was a murder they didn’t commit and were eventually exonerated of in 2009.
The film opens quite promisingly with a theatrical look at the brothers in pools of light with audio of the judge presiding. The execution is done in the same manner without gratuitous screams and burning flesh. Director Andre Alfa and writer Stephen George‘s story picks up in 2013 as Judge Carroll Johnson ‘CJ’ Ramage (Terry Milam), the grandson of the judge that sentenced the Griffins to die, is about to close a lucrative deal on the land that once was their farm.
There’s just one problem. Judge Johnson’s lawyer Roger Newbolt (Jonathan Fuller) has found another heir to the property, Lyndsey (Ashley Whelan), and she’ll have to be convinced to sell. She and her friends arrive in town as objection to the sale is being raised. The date is important as it is the hundredth anniversary of the Griffin brothers’ conviction. The picture then turns to the people of BlackStock who are racists. One sequence has people in the local bar raising toasts to “white power.” Sheriff Brice (Creek Wilson) boasts about his great uncle being the Griffins’ executioner. You also have the sultry southern belle in the person of Samantha (Laura Flannery), who slinks around in black clothes and speaks seductively to all for no reason. You also have truck driving, ball hat wearing beer guzzling boys who are coy with the local police. The film includes an attempt at a lynching that is stopped by the reanimated, electrically charged, whip handling brothers who have risen to get revenge on the descendants of those that killed them.
The social commentary element, while worth it for the framing of events, becomes clichéd. No doubt some of this happens in life in the South, however it is the equivalent of putting red ants with black ants (No pun intended). The film also has a needless romantic element to it between Lyndsey and Jesse (Aspen Kelly Washington) that results in a meaningless final payoff. The dead predictably kill well amongst the heavy handed CGI effects. It’s the ant battle punctuated by Lyndsy’s moans as she hobbles bleeding upstairs on one leg. Her movements and sounds became a distraction in the last half hour. I had no sympathy for these cardboard figures running around being slaughtered.
BLACKSTOCK BONEYARD (2021) does manage some odd moments, such as an accidental death similar to what occurred in THE DESCENT (2005). The moment is marred by ludicrous CGI effects and apparent under reaction. There is even death by suicide of one of Lynsey’s friends. It too is clouded by poor effects. It’s not the effects that tell the story, it’s the people. They are lost here. Tough to mention the acting in this film as the dialogue, characters and situations just don’t move the film along with any interest, especially the stilted ending.
Production values are present even if they then to look like a poor cousin to IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967). The film should have, and could been better, with a script that give nuance instead of perpetuating the racial stereotypes on both sides. It was to the point I considered this a Blaxploitation film, since you see Black people doing traditional white film action. With more thought and texturing, a sleeper could have been borne for the right reasons.
Review by Terry Sherwood