Brittany Murphy’s performance in Cherry Falls, an underrated teen slasher movie from 2000, should have earned the actress more recognition.
The underrated teen slasher Cherry Falls starred actress Brittany Murphy right at the height of her career in the early 2000s — though an often overlooked movie, both Murphy and the movie deserve more credit for what they managed to accomplish.
Despite managing to pull off much of what made Wes Craven’s Scream and other teen slasher movies of the same era such as The Faculty, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend so popular, Cherry Falls was largely overlooked. While much of this can be attributed to the fact that the 2000 release, directed by Geoffrey Wright, was never given a theatrical release. Some struggles with the MPAA over rating woes, it was released direct to TV and severely edited as a result. Even so, Cherry Falls still managed to get attention from Cannes in 1999, and won a Best Director award for Wright at the Sitges Film Festival. Cherry Falls was also largely out of print, but Scream Factory resurrected it and gave it both new legs and a new audience in 2016.
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Murphy, who tragically passed at the age of 32 in 2009, had already seen success in Girl, Interrupted, Clueless, and Drop Dead Gorgeous around the same time Cherry Falls released. However, much of the actress’ accolades went to these more well-known films; just like the movie itself, Murphy’s skill in the horror genre was under-appreciated. The early 2000s showcased a different side of Murphy, with the actress starring in films like Just Married, Uptown Girls, and Sin City. However, her range – especially when mixing together charm, humor, and dramatic chops – was all showcased in Cherry Falls, proving that Murphy had the potential to become a breakout star in the horror scene like Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott (Scream) or Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Julie (I Know What You Did Last Summer). However, when Cherry Falls dropped off the public’s radar, horror fans’ chances of another promising 2000s scream queen dropped, too.
As proven by her turn as the “tragically unhip” – but still totally charming and loveable – Tai in Clueless and the tragically misunderstood Daisy in Girl, Interrupted, Murphy knew how to command a scene, and could occasionally steal the ones she was in away from the likes of Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, and Alicia Silverstone. Though her role as Jody Markin – the sheriff’s daughter – in Cherry Falls was far different than the former two, Murphy’s skill and on screen charisma shone through every scene. A different sort of final girl, Jody’s character combines characteristics of Danielle Harris’ reprisal of Annie Brackett in Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies with the grit and sleuthing capabilities of iconic final girl Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) in the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie.
While the concept of a killer who targets virgins and the camp factor of Cherry Falls can detract from what is otherwise a good slasher movie indicative of the era, Murphy’s performance never wavers. She’s given enough material to accurately portray the doe-eyed “good girl” and the wherewithal to stand toe to toe with the movie’s Norman Bates inspired killer, Mr. Marliston (Jay Mohr). Working alongside actors such as The Terminator‘s Michael Biehn – who plays her father – Murphy manages to not only meet them in intensity, but evokes such a likeability in all her characters that it becomes impossible not to root for her. This is a must-have factor for any horror movie’s final girl, but especially in movies that rely on such traditional tropes of the sub-genre.
Cherry Falls may not have possessed the magic touch of Wes Craven or Scream‘s meta humor, but the tongue-in-cheek concept and excellent delivery from its lead actors beg modern horror fans to give it a second look. And, while it’ll likely never become a main point of reference for fans of Brittany Murphy, it’s worth re-visiting to see more of what the talented young actress was able to do.
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