The bad title isn’t the worst sin of “Organ Trail,” basically a dawdling B Western rendered violent enough to be labeled “horror.”
It’s “horror” only in the broadest sense, but how you bill and sell your movie isn’t usually a deal breaker. Much of the slaughter here is pretty generic, but there are some moments of well-staged flash, fire and fury.
It only seems like the folks involved wasted stunning Livingston, Montana-in-winter scenery in restrospect. This great location in search of a better Western is saddled with one gorgeous backdrop after another.
But from its 25 minute prologue to the drawn-out “Is he/she dead? Did he/she finally die? For real this time?” ending, this lumbering beast never comes to life. The screenplay is like a never-oiled machine, a jalopy that groans, squeaks, rattles and stalls all over lovely Montana, wrapped in freshly-scrubbed and shaved players. period-proper costumes, anachronistic F-bombs and boredom.
The prologue follows a farm family down off a mountain, two parents and two teens and many of their possessions stuffed into a Conestoga wagon pulled by a lone horse (sure) through a blizzard. In the valley below, they stumble across a massacre site, and rescue the lone survivor (Olivia Grace Applegate) who was crucified by arrows.
And then the non-Natives who carried out that slaughter jump them, and only the daughter Abigail (Zoé De Grand Maison) and crucified Cassidy survive that, taken hostage and dragged off to an abandoned church in a new ghost town.
Turns out, this English goon (Sam Trammell) and his four henchmen were the ones who did the massacring in both cases. Now they have other plans for the two women, who will go through some things as Abby fights back and does her damnedest to escape and the resigned-to-her-fate Cass starts to come to grips with all the people who die when either one of them reach out for help.
The collateral damage in this corner of Big Sky Country is horrific.
But the priorities on this production are laughable, the script is rife with chaff — scenes, sequences and characters who do not advance the plot and delay getting to “the real action” to a pointless degree.
A Black farmer (Clé Bennett) leaves his pregnant wife (Jessica Francis Duke) to get mixed-up in this affair. Thomas Lennon plays a barkeep at a candlelit saloon (another gorgeous image), a character whose dramatic purpose is less impressive than his name — Royal Fitzgibbon
Sadism is the default emotion, “surviving the unsurvivable” the rule of thumb and nonsense and more nonsense pads the running time.
The Englishman hears someone called “Romeo” and wonders “Do you read Shakespeare?” of an illerate murderous minion. He feels the need to to extemporize when he’s sharing a bottle.
“Chateau Lafitte, ’64, dominant grape, Cabernet Sauvignon. Sturdy vintage to be sure, characterized by notes of smoke, incense, tar and saddle leather!”
If the screenwriter (Meg Turner) wrote that, “Learn to kill your darlings, dear.” And maybe Google when the F-bomb showed up in the American vernacular. Here’s a tip, “Deadwood” got it wrong. If she didn’t write it, there’s another prime candidate for the cutting room floor.
With these locations and this cast and the action beats that work, this might have been a solid 80-minute B-movie that looks like an A-picture. Director of Photography Joe Kessler’s the only one who should put any of this on his sizzle reel.
“Organ Trail” went wrong with that bloated prologue, wrong when no one thinned the superfluous out of the script and really wrong with that stupid title.
Rating: R for strong violence, (profanity) and some sexual references
Cast: Zoé De Grand Maison, Sam Trammell, Olivia Grace Applegate, Clé Bennett, Nicholas Logan and Thomas Lennon
Credits: Directed by Michael Patrick Jann, scripted by Meg Turner. A Paramount+ release.
Running time: 1:52