Archive for October 27, 2017

At this point, you have to wonder where and when this whole “ghost hunting” thing will end.

“Reality” TV is full of this kind of crap, of course, as is the “micro-budget” horror scene, and on a purely practical level it certainly makes sense : you don’t need much money, after all, to make a film where amateur acting, equally amateur cinematography (usually of the “shaky-cam” variety), and “hinted at but not really seen” effects work are built right into the story itself. In short, where unprofessionalism is not only countenanced, but expected. With all that in mind, then, it would probably be terribly naive to expect this burgeoning sub-genre of “found footage” horror (a sub-genre in and of itself) to go away anytime soon — but goddamn, sometimes I wish it would.

Case in point : 2015’s Ghostfinders, a zero-budget effort that comes our way courtesy of writer/director/producer/nominal “star” Luke Hill (and his one-off — and one-man — production outfit, Amalgam Movieworks), who, along two paranormal-hunter cohorts (played by name omitted by request and Quincy Kuykendall), decides to check out a house so fucking haunted that its most recent owners split after just one night in the place — not that it being a potential deathrap has prevented them from trying to rent it out to unsuspecting suckers ever since, mind you. But none of the tenants have hung around for very long, either.

The litany of complaints about the house amounts to “we’ve heard this all before” stuff — strange noises, apparitions appearing and disappearing, that sort of thing. In other words, there’s no attempt at anything resembling originality here — which is hardly an unforgivable sin in my book provided all the bog-standard shit on offer is well-executed or presented in a fashion that at least threatens to be somewhat interesting. Care to place a wager on whether or not Hill and Co. manage to pull that off?

The acting in this flick is lousy, the dialogue is dull, the hand-held camerawork is sloppy and unimaginative, the story is rote and predictable, the “scares” are non-existent, the effects are lifeless — there isn’t anything here you haven’t seen before, haven’t seen done better, and haven’t fallen asleep watching. And good effing luck staying awake here, too. I did — just barely, but I honestly wish I hadn’t. Sleep, after all, is a precious commodity in this life, while “found footage” ghost-hunter movies are anything but.

I could strain my brain for fucking days trying to dream up even one reason for you to spend your valuable time on Ghostfinders, and I’d still come up empty. There’s just nothing here — or, more specifically, there’s nothing worth seeing. Or at least nothing worth seeing again. Luke Hill clearly knew all the boxes he had to check off the list that people who make films of this sort apparently keep handy and, having placed a big red “X” in all of them, he figured that his job was done. And having warned you off this one in the strongest possible terms, guess what? So is mine.

 

Hard is it may be to believe in this day and age, there once was a time when the tag-line “Based On A True Story” was used to sell a film. It was a simpler and more naive era, I suppose — but as the years progressed, most audiences wised up to the fact that even these purportedly “true” stories were heavily fictionalized, if not outright fabrications, and so movie-makers started giving themselves a little bit of breathing room (not to mention legal protection) by claiming that their productions were merely “inspired by true stories” or, to push the degrees of separation out a bit even further, “inspired by true events.” These days, though, who are we kidding? Even these tepid labels impress precisely no one — but apparently Connecticut-based producer/director/actor BuAli Shah didn’t get the message, because he was still trying to gin up interest in his 2014 straight-to-streaming number, They Exist, by claiming that it was — you guessed it — “inspired by true stories.”

And so it probably is — if we take the term “stories” literally, as in, stories that people tell. Which are often, of course, complete bullshit.

And speaking of complete bullshit — that’s basically what They Exist amounts to. Shah stars as A.L., a (here’s a stretch) amateur filmmaker who, at the behest of a friend/rival, decides to undertake a documentary project chronicling people’s “real-life” ghost stories (or, if you prefer, “paranormal experiences”), but ends up in over his head — and even charged with murder — when one of his subjects, a young woman named Stacy (played by Heli Vaher) turns out to be haunted/possessed herself. Furthermore, her secret dovetails with one from her chronicler’s own past, and so maybe it’s not exactly a coincidence that the two of them have found themselves bound together by, ya know, ancient forces of evil and all that. If only the two of them were bound together by something more practical, like attending the same acting class —

Which isn’t to say that all the acting in this flick is lousy : supporting characters Joe (John Stagmaier) and Karen (Catalina Ceballos) at least come off as nominally interesting, but they probably should have been cast in the lead roles, to be brutally honest. Other parts are filled by members of the production team (screenwriter Ibne Naqvi plays a character named Maddy) and their siblings (Naqvi’s brother Zar turns up as a guy named Sam) or friends, which is hardly unexpected in a film with a budget this low, but it is helpful if they’re competent — and most of these folks simply aren’t.

That being said, at least a fair amount of the effects work on display here is. Stacy’s transformation in particular is well-executed, and some of the more minor make-up and practical FX really do look pretty good, as does most of the cinematography, which is often quite moody and effective. So at least the film looks good, and I’d even go so far as to say that Shah might have a real future behind the camera. He should just forget about getting back in front of it for the foreseeable future.

It wouldn’t be entirely fair, then, to say that They Exist is a completely lost cause — the story is certainly lame and predictable, and the leads struggle with their roles, but there’s some ability on display on the technical side. It’s nowhere near enough to recommend the film, that’s for sure, but who knows? Shah has made some noise on the movie’s official facebook page about a potential sequel (to be filmed in Pakistan, go figure) and maybe — just maybe — that could prove to be worth checking out, if and when it ever actually comes to pass.