Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Andy Palmer
Writer: Kathryn Lyn, Cameron Bender, Andy Palmer
Producer: Warner Davis, Andy Palmer, Kathryn Lyn, Cameron Bender
Stars: Kathryn Lyn, Cameron Bender, Rachelle Dimaria, Carlos Alazraqui, Roniit Alkayam
A newlywed wife comes to suspect that a ghost haunting her home might be connected to a tragic secret in her family’s past.
While the films themselves don’t always see it coming when they are released, there are certain horror movies that end up being trendsetters. “Blair Witch Project” (review here) made “found footage” white-hot. “Halloween” (review here) put knives in the hands of multiple fictional slashers. “Saw” and “Hostel” laid the initial paving stones for “torture porn.”
Something else no one necessarily realizes at the time is that there are also films that effectively cap trends, or warrant moratoriums until audiences can once again tolerate less polished competitors. Sometimes this can be chalked up to overexposure waning audience interest. Other times, successful movies alter expectations in ways where something that might have landed X months ago now has no chance of taking flight.
For example, James Wan’s 2013 “The Conjuring” (review here) is basically the haunted house movie equivalent of a stand-up comic’s mic drop. With a majority consensus of praise for its finely-tuned scare tactics, “The Conjuring” all but dares fellow filmmakers to “go ahead, top that.” It’s not a perfect movie, and it doesn’t have to be regarded as an immutable exclamation point on any subgenre. Yet at a minimum, it is a significant bar raiser that ups the ante against any similar film cast in its shadow.
This does not mean that productions without the benefit of extra zeroes in their bank accounts or big name draws on their marquees should just pack it in and not bother. But it does mean that anything less than A-game delivery and a low-budget indie effort is required to answer the question, how does this movie earn my attention? Because merely “okay” is not the same as “good enough,” let alone “worth seeing.”
Case in point: “Find Me.” Co-writers/co-producers/co-stars Kathryn Lyn and Cameron Bender play newlyweds Emily and Tim, who move into a secluded new home in Emily’s childhood neighborhood. The house stood vacant for years and was sold for a song, the first two telltale signs that they have just signed a lease on a haunting. Tim and Emily partly luck out in that although glass cracks inexplicably and shadowy shapes appear reflected in mirrors, they apparently have one of those “please solve my murder” spirits, as opposed to a poltergeist bent on supernatural slaughter and warnings to get out.
Self-aware dialogue shows that the filmmakers have done their homework and are savvy enough to be wary of the most routine clichés that this plot involves. Tim and Emily scoff at talk of Indian burial grounds and bathing alone. Claire’s friend Emily jokes about not telling Tim that their house is haunted because horror movie husbands never believe their wives. It is a refreshing change of pace that Tim doesn’t take his time getting on board the “we have a ghost” train. He and Emily even investigate bumps in the night together, instead of separating under the usual “stay here while I am attacked alone” circumstances.
Unfortunately, this strategy of tiptoeing around tropes gets flatfooted as the buildup progresses. The exposition stage isn’t slow so much as uneventful. Other than discovering the words “find me” scrawled on a mirror, hour one doesn’t provide any meaningful clues about the mystery. There is nothing like a local legend about a witch, a known secret from the past, or even a half-glimpsed grimace that someone has an ulterior motive about anything. So when ghosts start appearing and sounds start banging, it reads merely as things just happening. There is no context putting intrigue into the occurrences.
Seemingly sensing that act three begins without a firm story having taken shape, “Find Me” becomes desperate to pump up the atmosphere, and does so by dunking its bucket right in that well it tried to avoid. Messages written in blood, tinkling music boxes, visions of ghost children, and a library research montage are just a few of the classic clichés employed. The finale picks up the tempo with an interesting look at the legitimate guilt felt by the heroine over why this happening. But the script mucks with the details in a manner that comes across as trying too hard to make sense and to be clever concurrently.
The big reveal plays as though the screenwriters thought it up while going along, because it doesn’t fit with what came previously, and the specifics change on the fly (what do you mean that body wasn’t who we thought it was?). Given what comes to light, it is ridiculous to think that this woman confronts a ghost that resembles her in a home connected to her childhood, and only when the film is two-thirds over does she finally connect why this might be. It is already questionable that a secret this huge would be kept from one’s husband. But that stretch is pulled past the point of breaking when “Find Me” asks the audience to accept that she would willingly move to the point of origin where such a tragedy took place.
Despite a plot wobbling first towards too little story and then towards too much, “Find Me” almost earns a pass for giving it the ol’ grad school try. The acting is as good as it needs to be for characters with limited development. The production value is fine for what the movie requires. The fact of the matter is simply that it is difficult to muster enthusiasm for a competent production of an “okay” film when alternative options offer superior paranormal pandemonium for the penny.
Review Score: 45