Two strangers forced into interaction at the airport never leads to anything pleasant. Meet Me There, the self described ‘art house horror film’ from director Lex Lybrand and writers Brandon Stroud and Destiny Talley, kicks off with the discomfort and anxiety dials set high, and gradually cranks them to 11 until the closing credits.
Ada, played by newcomer Lisa Friedich, suffers from a number of sexual dysfunctions, which her therapist suggests may stem from a blocked childhood trauma. Her boyfriend Calvin (Michael Foulk) offers to take her back to her hometown to look for answers.
The premise is a simple and uncomfortably honest one. The resolution is not so simple- it is, after all, a horror movie- as Ada and Calvin search for the truth in a small town drowning in religion.
Meet Me There thrives by knowing exactly what it is: a tension piece more concerned with tone then plot. In the chaos that follows Ada’s return home, we’re treated to escalating insanity but very few answers as to what or why. It’s actually a refreshing approach, as if writers Stroud and Talley heard audiences collectively saying ‘don’t show us the monster!’ at screenings of countless other horror films, took pity, and tossed us in the deep end. Once the credits rolled, I had more questions than answers, which only added to the disturbing aura of the rural Oklahoma town that the movie explores.
The highlights of the film are easily Friedich’s Ada, and Dustin Runnels’ sinister performance of Preacher Woodward. Runnels’ portrayal of the small town preacher gives a dark cloud of tragedy, adding a lot of weight to what could be a one note ‘creepy Jesus guy’ character, and it’s obvious that once Runnels retires from his day job of being professional wrestling legend Goldust, he’s got plenty of options.
Lisa Friedich is a stand out new addition to the pantheon of young scream queens: a raw and understated hipster Ellen Ripley that commands the camera.
The movie isn’t without its flaws. There are some pacing issues with scenes that don’t push the action forward. Boyfriend Calvin doesn’t have a lot to do beyond remind us that things are ‘pretty messed up,’ which the story does a good job of not letting us forget on its own. Meet Me There could have easily been a solo adventure for it’s heroine.
Lybrand has a tendency to keep the camera tight and close, which is often helpful in communicating the idea of the world closing in on Ada, but as a result, he limits the tools in his story telling kit by not allowing the camera to open up the world for the audience. For instance, at one point in the third act, our heroes on the run stumble across something in the woods, react in fear and disgust, but we the audience don’t get a solid idea as to what it is they’re reacting to, or where it is in the physical world of the film.
Regardless, Lybrand is a natural with mood and tone, and the screenwriting team isn’t afraid of exploring high stakes personal territory. Horror movies aren’t much without their subtext, and the relationship between abuse and religious suppression is a bold direction to take for a bold debut that’s worth seeking out. Combined with Friedich’s natural charisma, the sky is obviously the limit for how far the four horsemen behind Meet Me There can evolve and grow for future projects.