A filmmaking couple travels with a colleague to the titular island to investigate and document the local history. Soon after their arrival, things start going sideways. Based on true events that happened on Beaver Island, MI, the film written by Fabricio Cerioni and Darrin James with the latter directing it, it tells the events in flashbacks and through the lead characters’ research. Not being familiar with the event that inspired the filmmakers, it is hard to tell if they are well-portrayed, loosely-inspired, or just barely connected as many “based on true events” films are. Nonetheless, the story follows the usual tropes of filmmakers investigating negative events for which they have little to no information.
Here the film does well with establishing what happened in the past that is being investigated. However, the characters’ knowledge of them seems to be nebulous at times. The usual, expected “bad events” start happening, people die, others find out the truth, the end. It’s a bit of a basic telling of a story that feels very familiar but it’s not boring per se. It’s not exactly enthralling either unfortunately. The cast of Elder Island does rather well considering their characters are a bit on the thin side for the most part. As the lead filmmaking couple, Stacy and Ned Ryerson, Jamie Bernadette and Nate Scholz do well. Jamie Bernadette definitely gives the strongest performance, showing once again that she can do well in just about any setting.
Giving a memorable performance as Sherriff Ree is Timothy Patrick Quill who has an interesting screen presence and makes the most of his screen time. The rest of the characters here are either fodder or filler it seems and their cast does ok with the parts they are given. The cinematography by Brett Wheat creates a look for the main events of the film and one for the flashbacks. Unfortunately, this is harder to see during the main events as a lot of the scenes are dark and render everything a bit hard to see. This is something that was most likely done for mood and atmosphere but the darker scenes have a resulting effect of being difficult to see and pay attention to. The way the scenes are shot and lit hide the special effects a bit but the work, by special makeup effects artist Erik Albidress with his assistants Precious and Stephanie Arble, that is visible look good, gooey, and even a bit gross.
They show that they can do effective makeup effects on a budget. Elder Island is clearly a low budget “based on true events” horror film trying to do the most of its small budget while the story is a bit run-of-the-mill for its sub-genre, it’s clearly done with a lot of heart and a good starting point for first time director Darrin James. Actress Jamie Bernadette once more shows she can pull a good performance out of most characters she’s given, even when thin she can give them more flesh and more depth. Elder Island may not be enthralling but it’s not exactly boring either. Those into the “based on true events” horror sub-genre should find something here to entertain them.