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At Coffenbury Lake, horror is in the name

Filmmaker with local ties uses lake as inspiration
By Jack Heffernan

The Daily Astorian

Published on April 20, 2017 10:07AM

Director Chris Lang is filming his next movie at Coffenbury Lake, in part because of its “creepy” name.

Damian Mulinix/For The Daily Astorian

Director Chris Lang is filming his next movie at Coffenbury Lake, in part because of its “creepy” name.

Makeup artist Jane Powers works to give Astoria sophomore Dakota Dawson the appearance of being a corpse for a movie being filmed at Coffenbury Lake.

Damian Mulinix/For The Daily Astorian

Makeup artist Jane Powers works to give Astoria sophomore Dakota Dawson the appearance of being a corpse for a movie being filmed at Coffenbury Lake.

Actor Dakota Dawson has makeup applied to make him look like a corpse.

Damian Mulinix/For The Daily Astorian

Actor Dakota Dawson has makeup applied to make him look like a corpse.

Actress Amanda Todisco (left) will once again co-star in a film by young director Chris Lang.

Damian Mulinix/For The Daily Astorian

Actress Amanda Todisco (left) will once again co-star in a film by young director Chris Lang.


Native Astorian Chris Lang momentarily experienced what could have been an opening scene in one of his horror movies.

While walking at Cullaby Lake on a typically cloudy day in 2006, Lang’s dog suddenly started acting strange, running through trees surrounding the lake. The dog appeared to be chasing something or someone inside the trees.

“Everything felt eerie and weird,” Lang said. “So, I was like, ‘It would be great to have a story that is centered at a lake like this where there are sort of these weird mysteries and supernatural undertones.’”

Years later, Lang has returned to begin working on his fourth feature film: “Coffenbury Lake.” Though not the same lake as the one that inspired the film, the name “Coffenbury” and the atmosphere — surrounding trees with green moss dangling from their limbs — seemed apt for a horror movie, Lang said.


Astoria graduate


Lang, a 2002 Astoria High School graduate, now lives in Washington, D.C., and directs episodes for the Reelz cable network show “Copycat Killers.” This week, he and his partially complete cast and crew have been scouting the Coffenbury Lake area and taking initial photos that will appear in the film’s opening credits.

Dakota Dawson, an Astoria High School sophomore, was on set Monday and will play a victim in photos of the captured serial killer’s initial murders. When Lang was a similar age, he worked for Dawson’s mother, Teona, who owns T. Paul’s Urban Cafe downtown. While an artist applied makeup to Dakota’s face to give him a deathly appearance, his mother recalled encouraging Lang to pursue his film aspirations.

Lang delved into the horror genre in his most recent movie, “Valley of Ditches,” after finishing two dramas. As his career progresses, he’s become more comfortable telling horror stories.

“We heard that that’s more of a marketable genre, and it’s done really well so far,” Lang said. “I’d never been at a point where I felt comfortable telling them until I had a couple films under my belt. I feel like a lot of people like the mystery and the sort of eerie, dreary mysteries.”

“Coffenbury Lake” will feature some of the same actors who played in Lang’s previous film.

“I like working in nature,” said Amanda Todisco, a “Valley of Ditches” star and co-writer. “I like the creepiness of the woods in the nighttime.”

The screenplay placed in the top eight among thousands of horror entries at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival in Utah. Lang hopes to finish “Coffenbury Lake” by August so he can submit the final product to the festival, which will take place again next January. From there, the film likely would go on to play at festivals, such as South By Southwest, Lang said.

“That would be a huge boost,” he said.


Summer filming


Before shooting the film in late July and early August, Lang will be hiring more cast and crew. He is speaking with agents in Los Angeles and is looking for candidates through the Screen Actors Guild.

The film, featuring six to seven main and supporting actors, 15 to 20 alternate characters and 15 to 18 crew workers, will be Lang’s largest production to date.

“Coffenbury Lake” is a mystery with supernatural elements. Set in a small, dreary coastal town in the Northwest, it involves a serial killer who would murder and leave victims’ bodies around the lake. But one year after the killer is caught, more murders occur in the same place.

“It draws the detective that basically gave his entire life to solve this case back into it, and he has to face his past ghosts,” Lang said.

Lang hopes audiences will appreciate the film’s message of hope through dire circumstances.

“It’s not a positive movie,” Lang said. “Sometimes in the worst tragedies in life people get so beat down, but I feel like, in this film, our protagonist uses that as almost like a tool that other people can’t access.”



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