The Cheap Epiphanies and Unexplained Fortitude of Cassadaga


These days, affluent baby boomers get their cheap epiphanies from This American Life and TED talks, whose disruptive entrances into the market undercut incumbent sources of insights such as literature and thinking. Like the Saw franchise, Cassadaga, directed by Anthony DiBlasi, attempts to leverage the horror genre in the service of inducing epiphanies, but keeps tripping over its confused tangle of genres.

Kelen Coleman plays Lily Morel, a deaf woman whose name evokes flowers and elusive mushrooms, and whose disability in no way hinders her investigation into a ghost haunting or the entrapment of a serial killer. Really! Her deafness literally never serves to endanger her or affect the plotting at all; this film is ADA-compliant. Mourning the untimely death of her younger sister, Lily accepts a merit scholarship to Cassadaga University, a small institution with spooky hallways and one Boo Radley guy who’s always snapping his window shutters closed.

A series of spooky supernatural encounters leads Lily to investigate the disappearance of a young woman several years previously, and ultimately into the creepy Saw basement of a killer who hacks apart young women and turns them into living marionettes. DiBlasi’s attempts at ghostly scares are indifferently conceived, and the serial killer’s workshop, while unpleasant, is a conventional torture-porn lair—hardware-equipped, but mysteriously lacking the medical equipment you’d need to keep victims alive after dismemberment (just a guess: zip ties).

Lily’s cheap epiphany, earned via stabbing in self-defense, would ultimately seem right at home among the startup millionaires and juggling monks in a TED conference video.