In many ways, the opening to Organ Trail could have been a direct adaptation of the Oregon Trail video game. You know, the classic floppy disk sensation millennials played while in computer class? Both stories begin with a family making their way to the Northwest. The setting is winter. The lighting is cold. The hunting is animals such as rabbits and deer, as a settler family struggles to maintain food and supplies along the journey. The only thing lacking was seeing Leonardo Di Caprio get mauled by a bear – because then you’d have an outright frontier survival story.
In Organ Trail, Abigale and her family find and rescue a broken woman in a deathly derelict town. Not realizing the problems they are taking on by helping her. Soon they’re taken hostage by a host of four deadly bandits who’d been tracking the woman, as carnage ensues, and the need for Abigale to get away gets all the more real.
This real run-of-the-mill evil gang of Western outlaws, who despite having some eccentric character traits, don’t have much going on past surface level. They want to keep Abigale as another woman in the crew and be bad… I guess?
Honestly, there’s actually not much thought here minus the characterization that these folks are the bad guys. You’ve got the witty British mastermind, the feels-no-pain muscle, the young kid who doesn’t belong as he’s not so much bad as he is stuck here, and of course, the stereotypical cowboy nincompoop, also known as the idiot of the group. Strangely, none of these characters have anything to do with Organs. In fact, the title is a misnomer, as there really are no organs featured in this movie.
Now, I will stress that there isn’t a theme, message, or even some great takeaway in Organ Trail. The writing features some solid twists and turns but is going for characterization and heart more than some grand narrative of revenge. Hell, even Abigale’s biggest motivation (besides escaping) is to reclaim the family horse. Screenwriter Meg Turner’s script goes in a different sort of direction than traditional tropes of expectations, which is where the story’s strengths lie. Within this well-showcased world is a story about women just seeking the means of resuming their lives.
As such, it’s really in the film’s middle where things start to pick up, when the gang begins hunting the survivors. How to keep on your toes and whom you can find as allies along the way. While it’s brutal in a tough Western grit kind of way, I’d actually say there really isn’t that much actual horror. At least, not until the end but even then, it’s more of an afterthought. The characters themselves are meant to be bad guys.
I will stress, the direction and cinematography in this is actually really excellent. I particularly enjoyed the closeups of items and goods such as muskets bullets and gunpowder piping. The details of these close-ups made you feel like you are living right there, in the moment, at these times. Smoking barrels and shootouts and all. Combine this with good lighting and reactive theatrical acting of the gang, and for entertainment’s sake, you’ve got a character-driven film.
Though this was also the film’s slight drawback, as the acting could be over the top at times. Still, of notable showcases, Olivia Applegate’s portrayal carried a lot of the film with her character providing a bit of nuance and sadness. Something that at times knew how to pivot onto hope as this reluctant participant and possibly sex worker. The labels of which were omitted for the sake of keeping it tasteful. She was a character that morally searched within herself to do the right thing despite her troubled history, which is probably the best character arc in the entire movie.
Overall, with a runtime of 112 minutes and some excellent visual work for an indie circuit darling, it’s not a bad thriller if you’re feeling up to it. Director Michael Patrick Jann knows how to generate performances and where to place a camera, making the film definitely feel immersive. I just wished it were more horror, as right now, its more True Grit than organs of anything.
Organ Trail is available to buy digital on May 12, 2023
Release Date: In select theatres April 14 and Available to Buy on Digital May 12, 2023
Starring: Zoé De Grand’Maison, Nicholas Logan, Olivia Applegate, Michael Abbott Jr., Jessica Frances Dukes with Clé Bennett and Sam Trammell
Written By: Megan Turner
Directed By: Michael Patrick Jann
Synopsis: Abigale and her family fall victim to a ruthless gang while making their way across the Oregon Trail. As the only survivor, she will do whatever it takes to retrieve her one earthly possession, her family’s horse, from the clutches of the bloodthirsty bandits.
Genre: Thriller, Horror, Western
Run Time: 112 Minutes