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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: June 12, 2017

What lurks behind Maine’s scenic settings, according to the movies

Written by: Dennis Perkins

More movies should be made in Maine. For one thing, Hollywood coming to town means a big boost for local economies. For another, big productions coming to Maine only energize (and employ) the Maine filmmaking community. Plus, aren’t you tired of all the “Maine” accents and trying-too-hard “local color” filmmakers use to dress up North Carolina, British Columbia and other decidedly not-Maine locales in order to give their latest Stephen King adaptation that real Maine feeling? (No one talks like you think Mainers talk like, Hollywood. Not in Maine. Not on Mars. Hire Mainers.)

Are there risks? Sure. When a movie does actually get filmed in Maine, our craggy coastline, deep, dark unincorporated territories, isolated farmhouses and wave-crashed islands often wind up the backdrop for some unsavory goings-on. Even in Maine’s glorious, sunny summers, our state’s stunning natural beauty and the nefarious drama of people (or things) with bad intentions is often an irresistible cinematic juxtaposition. Indeed, for all these summer-set movies filmed (at least partly) in Maine invariably suggest, the state motto might as well be: “Come to Maine for the summer — we probably won’t kill you!”

Here’s what film has taught us about each of Maine’s quintessential movie settings:

Maine’s islands

Pros (according to the movies): Taking a ferry to a cozy cabin on a remote Maine island is the perfect antidote for your noisy, bustling, big city life.

Cons: Creeping, creepy locals taking advantage of the isolation to stalk, haunt and otherwise freak you out, especially if you’re a woman (2012’s “Black Rock,” filmed in Milbridge and an undisclosed Maine island); unexpected appearance of washed-up dead bodies and inconveniently unreliable communications devices (“Island Zero,” Camden, Rockport, Ilesboro); stormy night car accident and psycho-sexual tension means Daryl from “The Walking Dead” messes up your marriage (“Dark Harbor,” Rockland); even when it’s peaceful, it’s where you go to die (“The Whales of August,” Cliff Island).

A scene from "Island Zero," filmed in Camden, Rockport and Ilseboro. Photo courtesy of Donkey Universe Films

A scene from “Island Zero,” filmed in Camden, Rockport and Ilseboro.
Photo courtesy of Donkey Universe Films

Maine’s woodlands

Pros: Peace, quiet, crickets and a refreshing lack of Starbucks or early-morning street sweepers.

Cons: Ancient evil occasionally raises dead loved ones, who come back “different” (Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” filmed in Bangor, Hancock, Ellsworth). As an orphan, you endure many hardships, including Michael Caine’s Cockney Maine accent (“The Cider House Rules,” Bernard, Corea, Acadia National Park).

Tobey Maguire and Paul Rudd in "Cider House Rules," filmed on Mount Desert Island. Photo courtesy of Miramax

Tobey Maguire and Paul Rudd in “Cider House Rules,” filmed on Mount Desert Island. Photo courtesy of Miramax

Small-town Maine

Pros: The way life should be!

Cons: Not super-welcoming if you’re “from away” and not white (“Five Nights in Maine,” Phippsburg, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth); occasional creeps with guns (“In the Bedroom,” Camden, Rockland, Rockport); everybody being unfaithful to literally everybody (“Peyton Place,” Camden, Belfast, Rockland; “Little Children,” Boothbay Harbor); meth, opioids and Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” trying to talk like he’s from Van Buren (“Beneath the Harvest Sky,” Van Buren). And rats! Rats everywhere! (“Graveyard Shift,” Bangor, Harmony, Brewer).

Coastal Maine

Pros: Fresh, salty air, majestic views, seagulls eating actual fish rather than pizza crusts from a dumpster.

Cons: You will see Kevin Costner moping around on the beach (“Message in a Bottle,” Phippsburg, New Harbor, Bath). It’s a scenic setting for a mental breakdown. (“Shutter Island,” Acadia National Park).

Big-city Maine

Pros: All the art, music, movies and culture of a big city with a whole lot more elbow room.

Cons: Young adults fleeing heartbreak will come back home to sort themselves out, and they can be a little self-obsessed (“See Girl Run,” Portland, South Portland). You’re gonna get zombies; zombies love all that activity (“Night of the Living Deb,” Portland).


Portland Public Library
Thursday: “All Over Me.” From filmmaking siblings the Sichel Sisters, this 1997 indie film about two best friends confronting their sexuality and the pitfalls of life in 1990s New York is part of the library’s monthlong Gay Pride Movies series.

Space Gallery
Tuesday, June 20: “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.”  With the ongoing debate about Portland’s redevelopment heating up for the summer, there’s no time better to check out this documentary about writer and activist Jane Jacobs, whose actions sought to preserve neighborhoods and communities in the face of often uncaring, rapacious development projects.

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