Fed up to the gills with lackluster “found footage” or “mockumentary” horrors, the other night I found something a bit different in Hulu’s “horror and suspense” queue — a genuine, honest-to-goodness documentary from 2010 called American Ghost Hunter that purports to tell the “real life” story of director/star Chad Calek and his family, who apparently have endured years of paranormally-inflicted terrors in their home in the tiny town of Persia, Iowa. What the heck? At the very least, it’s a change of pace, right?
Weeeelllllll — not exactly. Unfortunately, American Ghost Hunter — or American Ghost Hunter : The Movie, if you prefer — is, in may respects, every bit as listless and dull as many fake “hand-held horrors,” but at least it has one thing going for it : the genuine terror and distress of Calek’s family. So, hey, three cheers for legit human suffering, right?
The damn thing is, it’s impossible to feel any real sympathy for these folks, simply because the “true-life horror” captured on film (okay, video) is anything but. We’re talking creaking doors and floorboards and shit. Calek, who apparently has been a mainstay on the A&E shows Paranormal State and The Ghost Prophecies (although don’t ask me — my wife watches those kinds of things all the time but I just can’t get into ’em) is joined here by his television cohort Ryan Buell and famed psychic Lorraine Warren (whose name you probably recognize from The Conjuring), and while their investigative process is actually reasonably interesting to watch as it plays out, the simple fact is that there just doesn’t seem to be all that much happening by way of scary shit while they’re in town, and no film can overcome an obstacle that steep. It sure seems like the Calek clan has put up with an inordinate amount of bullshit over the years that has left them all stressed-out and fearful, but none of it happens while the cameras are rolling, and the end result is a pretty flat viewing experience.
In Calek’s defense, basic questions like “why not just sell the house and start over somewhere else?” are resolved in a fairly satisfactory manner, and everyone involved with this production seems deadly earnest in terms of both their intentions and motivations, so I’m not going to accuse this production of being a cheap exploitation of family tragedy. Nor does it seem like these are a bunch of folks determined to parlay a few inexplicable, but essentially harmless, occurrences into a lucrative “cottage industry.” Everyone seems sincere. But at the end of the day the film is also sincerely boring. Maybe the ghosts showed back up after the film crew was gone?
Still, in its own way, this film’s lack of on-camera goings-on sort of proves its legitimacy. Paranormal entities tend to operate on their own schedule, from what I’m told, and if things had really been jumping when the filmmakers were in town, there’s no doubt that any number of people would have accused this flick of being a staged and co-ordinated affair. As it is, it’s more or less immune to any charges of that sort, because if you were, in fact, going to “fake it,” you’d come up with something a lot more interesting than this.
Or would you? Some of the “found footage” horrors I’ve subjected myself to lately are no more involving than American Ghost Hunter, so I honestly have to wonder.