By Don Simpson | May 21, 2014
Director: Lex Lybrand
Writers: Brandon Stroud, Destiny D Talley
Starring: Lisa Friedrich, Micheal Foulk, Dustin Runnels, John Gholson, Jack Jameson, Alexandria Berry, Jayna Hackel, David Laurence, Megan Simon, Brandon Stroud, Bob Swaffar, Jill Thompson
Lex Lybrand’s Meet Me There is certainly not the first film in which the protagonist returns to their hometown in order to face their past head-on. It is a narrative trope that has been used in just about every cinematic genre, mostly because it is a very relatable storyline for a lot of people. But Meet Me There differentiates itself from the rest of the pack by carefully morphing from a fairly subdued micro-budget drama into a warped and demented psychological horror film, cleverly mirroring the deteriorating mental states of the protagonists along the way.
Unlike most traditional horror films, Meet Me There is patient enough to fully develop its characters and build significant dramatic tension before really amping up the suspense. The downside to this “slow simmer” narrative approach is that the purely dramatic first act may bore some horror aficionados completely out of their seats — or they might at least double-check that they are watching the correct film. These early scenes are when Lybrand allows the film to thoughtfully ruminate upon the psychological torment of Ada’s (Lisa Friedrich) personal history. Nothing is sinister or out of the ordinary, instead Meet Me There presents itself as an intimate portrait of a couple whose relationship is threatened by intimacy issues. If the framing and editing of the dialogue scenes were not so conventionally manicured and precise, the first act of Meet Me There could very easily be confused for a post-mumblecore production.
While attending couple’s counseling with her boyfriend, Calvin (Micheal Foulk), it becomes apparent that Ada has all but forgotten about her childhood in the rural community of Sheol, Oklahoma; but Ada’s mysterious past is affecting her ability to engage in sex with Calvin. Ada showcases clear signs of childhood molestation, and it seems as though her only chance of overcoming her present sexual issues is by dealing with those deeply guarded memories.
Ada and Calvin opt to go on a road trip to Sheol in order to brush away the cobwebs from Ada’s memories. What they find is a backwards — dare I say redneck — community that is riddled by gun-toting racists and religious zealots. As is the case with most economically-ravaged rural communities across the United States, Sheol is the mispronounced type of place that teenagers do everything in their power to escape; anyone who remains there is usually too fucked up by the social isolation to notice the horrors that surround them. As we are dutifully reminded throughout Meet Me There, people only return to creepy places like Sheol if/when they are ready to die.
Yes, things are pretty messed up in Sheol. Even though their natural inclination is to turn on their heels and run back to Austin, Calvin is driven be the intense desire to help Ada recover from whatever it is that might be haunting her. Sure, Calvin probably just wants to enjoy a bit of copulation with Ada, but he also cares about her psychological wellbeing. Time and time again, Calvin proves just how willing he is to aid and protect Ada, despite not fitting into the stereotypical physical mold of a male hero. All the while, Ada’s motivations and goals grow increasingly blurred…but why?
As any semblance of the protagonists’ safety, security and — for that matter — reality disintegrates, Meet Me There mutates into a film that those aforementioned horror aficionados might have been patiently craving. Meanwhile, Meet Me There carefully avoids any sort of explanation as to what the hell is going on in Sheol, effectively forcing us to experience firsthand the same WTF levels of confusion as Calvin. By the time the end credits roll, you might be able to piece together how the film’s seemingly random prologue (featuring John Gholson and Jack Jameson) possibly fits into the mix, but the real challenge will be to wrap your head around what really happens to Ada and Calvin.
Meet Me There is a much welcomed change of pace from the rest of the horror marketplace. It is way too rare that horror films care so much about character development; but by confidently taking the slow and steady approach, Lybrand allows us to become fully invested in Ada and Calvin’s relationship, so that when shit really starts to unravel, it affects the audience just as much as it does the protagonists.