It’s Halloween and a bunch of people in Halloween costumes are milling around in a party mood at an old railway station with a few old steam trains lined up and ready to go. One of the trains is designated as the ‘Murder Mystery Train’ and out of the steam emerges a different group of characters in period costume all lined up and ready to enjoy a night of role-play and mystery solving... or so it seems. As they prepare to board there’s a strange moment between the group in period costumes and the group in Halloween costumes. But what does it mean? You’ll have to wait for the end of the film to find out.
In the meantime, enter The Host (Frank Lammers) a larger than life character in top hat and mourning coat who chews up the scenery as he welcomes the guests aboard and introduces them one by one with a vaguely threatening overtone revealing truths and secrets about each in turn. Most of our key characters, it seems, don’t really want to be here. Evelyn (Carter Scott) is only here because her friend is one of the actors in the ‘show’. Thomas (Everette Wallin) is only here because he promised his brother he’d come. Eugene (Logan Coffey) is representing his cosmetics company who provide the make-up for the actors. This is his fourteenth time on board and he’s pretty blasé about it. The only one who really wants to be here is young rich kid, Abigail (Shae Smolik) whose parents have sent her along with chaperone, Antonia (Leticia LaBelle) who is the most reluctant participant of all.
The Host has barely finished his introduction when the ‘murder’ takes place. But wait, something’s not right. Turns out it’s a real murder and then, before we know it, there’s a robbery taking place and then, before we’ve got our heads around that, the train takes a bend going too fast and comes off the rails, plunging into a deep river. Now our heroes are stranded in a slowly submerging carriage (looking like a scene from The Titanic) but when one of the show’s characters, Marcus (Daniel O’Reilly) tries to swim to shore, he’s pulled under (like a scene out of Jaws) by some weird looking monster that’s a cross between the double-jawed Alien, the Demogorgon (from Stranger Things) and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. So now it’s a monster movie and our heroes are being picked off one by one.
In theory, there’s no reason why this rapid shift of genres and styles can’t work, and, to a certain extent, there are moments in this film when it works really well. But those moments don’t coalesce into a satisfying whole. Partly it’s a problem of tone. There are moments that feel like the campiness and heightened reality is intentional and that we should be finding this darkly comical if not, at times, hilarious. But there are other moments where it feels like it wants to be a horror film and that we should be on the edge of our seats. The upshot is that D-RAILED sits uncomfortably on the fence between both those possibilities leaving the audience (or, at least, me) feeling quite uncertain about what it is we’re watching.
What keeps it afloat (excuse the pun) are some strong performances, especially by Scott who carries the narrative and is quite compelling on screen. She somehow seems to navigate her way through the story giving us a sense that she knows what this is meant to be, even if we’re not one hundred percent sure. I can’t really talk about the film’s ending, other than to say that there’s quite a twist waiting for us in the final scenes that shifts gears yet again and attempts to provide an explanation for what we’ve been watching for the past eighty or so minutes. For me, the ending is a bit of a let down in terms of how it contextualises the overall story. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way if you’re willing to go with the flow and to view the story through something less than a critical eye.