Joseph’s Review: Sunset on the River Styx (Portland Horror Film Festival)

★★★ out of ★★★★★

A trippy third act and solid performances highlight this vampire outing.

Directed by Aaron Pagniano

Writer/director Aaron Pagniano, who made award-winning waves on the film fest circuit in 2018 with the horror comedy short We Got a Monkey’s Paw including winning that year’s Funny Bone Award at PHFF, goes a far more somber route in his feature debut Sunset on the River Styx. Phillip Andre Botello plays suicidal city bus driver Will, whose life takes a turn for the better after his chance meeting with passenger Ashe (Jakki Jandrell of We Got a Monkey’s Paw) turns into a romantic relationship — or so he thinks. Matters get more complicated when Ashe invites Will for what sounds like a suicide pact, but what turns out to be a vampire ritual headed by her new undead squeeze Wreck (Cory Vaughn). 

ATMOSfx! Woo!

Pagniano spends much of the first and second act focusing on the budding relationship between Will and Ashe, not fully revealing the vampire element until almost an hour into this 94-minute feature, but the chemistry between the Andre and Jandrell is believable and their dialogue as they philosophize about life and the afterlife is engaging without being heavy-handed. 

The bold, trippy, often violent third act features remarkable editing work by Michael Felker, who has performed editing duties on all of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s features, including their new science-fiction outing Synchronic (2019). Sunset on the River Styx is a heady, unique independent horror effort with arresting visuals and absorbing performances.  

Sunset on the River Styx screened as part of Portland Horror Film Festival’s virtual edition, which ran from June 17–21. 

This review is in memory of VideoScope Publisher and Editor Joe Kane.

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