Maybe I’m just beaten down.
Like a stone weathered away to nothing by a constantly-running stream over time, I’ve absorbed so many third-rate “found footage” horror flicks in recent years — particularly in the past few weeks thanks to Hulu’s “horror and suspense” offerings — that anything even slightly more competent than the usual drivel starts to look like a work of comparative cinematic genius.
All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying that I know that writer/director Hunter G. Williams’ 2011 indie offering The Crying Dead (or, as it was known during production, The Whispering Dead — don’t ask me what prompted the last-minute, and frankly rather stupid, title change) really isn’t all that great — but damn, coming after to a lot of the absolute shit I’ve subjected myself to lately, it might as well be Citizen Kane.
Sure, every done-to-death cliche is present and accounted for here : the cast and crew of a new paranormal-themed “reality” TV show (Chris Hayes plays Chris, Jeff Stearns plays Jeff, Becka Adams plays Becka, Angelina Lyubomirova plays Angelina, Callie Cameron plays Callie — you know the drill) are venturing, for their pilot episode, into the bowels of the infamous Ettersburg hospital, where three young girls perished in a fire years ago, and they’re doing so under cover of darkness given that going the direct route only got them confronted with a series of dead ends. Once locked in for the night, they of course discover that all the rumors about the place being haunted are true, and when one of their erstwhile “team” goes missing and they split-up, Scooby-Doo style, to try and track down their now-absent comrade, things go from bad to worse to even worse than that —
Yes, you’ve seen this done before. And yes, you’ve seen it done better. This isn’t going to make you forget about Grave Encounters, that’s for sure. But Williams and co-writer Scott Michael Campbell have obviously done their homework and know how to pace events to achieve near-maximum impact. The cast, while unspectacular, are nevertheless thoroughly believable and get the job done just fine. And there are a reasonable number of scares, both genuine and cheap, filmed with something approaching — though not quite attaining, in many cases — aplomb. For a $200,000 production, it seems impressively professional in terms of its execution, and while the “night-vision” filming certainly grates after awhile, on the whole I have to reluctantly confess that it’s by and large used to good effect and accentuates the genuine “creepiness” of the film’s well-chosen location (a disused California hospital, if IMDB is to be believed). So points all around for better-than-average work on this one.
I won’t bullshit you that The Crying Dead has anything going for it beyond that, though. It’s not in any way ambitious or even particularly provocative. It is, however, proof positive that there are still some decent, if far from revolutionary, things to be found within the “hand-held horror” subgenre. And right now, heck — I guess that’s enough for this frazzled armchair critic.