Watching The Curse of Bridge Hollow is a frustrating experience that Netflix subscribers will likely recognize. In the streamer’s Herculean effort to outproduce the biggest of Hollywood studios when it comes to original films, it has become somewhat associated with the so-called “algorithm movies” that fill out the mid-to-bottom tiers of its release slate. These projects are so transparently designed to check category boxes that people outside the target demographics might never even learn of their existence. They can feature familiar faces, as this one does, but they pursue a paint-by-numbers functionality that is at best inoffensively diverting, and at worst corrosively bland. Falling closer to the latter than the former, The Curse of Bridge Hollow hopes to hide a clunky, unfunny script behind the veneer of a solid filmmaking apparatus, but it manages to test one’s patience even at a merciful 89 minutes of runtime.
The movie’s premise sees Sydney (Stranger Things‘ Priah Ferguson) and her parents (played by Marlon Wayans & Kelly Rowland) move from their busy lives in New York City to the Salem-esque New England town of Bridge Hollow, “the safest small town in America.” Her father, who will teach science at the local high school, has had a heavy hand in his daughter’s pursuits, including his attempts to squash her love for the paranormal – something that immediately sets him at odds with his new, Halloween-obsessed surroundings. When Sydney finds some like-minded friends and learns her new home is supposedly haunted, however, she goes behind her dad’s back and does a little digging (…via a Ouija board app). Then, on Halloween night, she accidentally sets free the malicious spirit of local legend Stingy Jack, who promptly starts bringing the town’s decorations to life. Sydney’s left with no choice but to team up with her skeptical father and stop the runaway ghost by midnight, or risk letting Halloween become every day of the year.
This premise is not a bad one, but its promise makes The Curse of Bridge Hollow‘s execution more frustrating. The film does well to play with differently themed decorations being brought to life, ranging from zombies to spiders to killer clowns, and there is some solid special effects work involved in realizing them. But, the opportunity for genuine creativity is not taken advantage of, and the monsters are all too familiar and practically devoid of personality. The best version of this movie probably takes a cue from Gremlins and shows some interest in what it might be like for a town to be overrun by animate lawn displays, or at least displays the love for creature creation that uplifts something like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. As it is, the script is too busy running from set piece to set piece of bland creatures attacking the protagonists, a rhythm that takes no time at all to grow stale.
That might be forgivable if those central humans get some quality arcs along the way, but the writing is equally uninteresting in this department. Sydney and her father are thin characters, and The Curse of Bridge Hollow tries to squeeze too much from their one note of conflict; the word “character” would be too strong for the figures that surround them, who are either shticks (when played by a recognizable comedian) or just blank presences. The actors are so clearly given nothing to work with and are trying to rely on personas built elsewhere, but the sense of them straining to add some semblance of emotion to a scene can actually make things a little uncomfortable. When watching this film attentively, it’s hard not to come away feeling like this was just a job, a paycheck, for everyone involved. That, in turn, is pretty hard to enjoy.
But perhaps the cardinal sin of The Curse of Bridge Hollow is that it isn’t funny. A couple bits land enough to generate a chuckle, but considering the rate at which jokes are thrown out, that hardly constitutes a win. Many an algorithm movie has skated by on being just funny enough, but even in the forgiving arena of the all-ages holiday comedy, this doesn’t cut it. Still, there’s always a chance that some viewers, especially those closest to Netflix’s target demographic, fall on the inoffensively diverted side of the reactions spectrum. In this movie’s case, however, it’s probably best not to chance it.
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The Curse of Bridge Hollow is available to stream on Netflix beginning Friday, October 14. The film is 89 minutes long and is rated TV-14.