Studio: Greenway Entertainment
Director: Steven M. Smith
Writer: Steven M. Smith
Producer: Steven M. Smith
Stars: Jon-Paul Gates, Vivien Creegor, Jeremy Hill, Steven M. Smith, Freddie Fuller, Gemma Gurvitz, Natalie Gurvitz, Samantha Smith, Frank Threapleton-Horrocks, Briony Rawle, Laura Penneycard
A reality television crew composed of skeptics and a psychic investigates a reportedly haunted train station in Essex.
Defending “found footage” as a sub-genre not as overdone as complainers bemoan it to be is already exhausting. Then along comes a movie like “Haunted” with another paranormal investigation concept that makes arguing the format’s potential an even more unrewarding proposition.
With the “reality television crew in a haunted location” premise specifically, a number of standard clichés usually apply like a pre-ordained checklist. An abandoned asylum doused in urban legend. An enthusiastic crew predisposed to belief in the supernatural. A conceit of raw video recovered at a crime scene with everyone’s whereabouts currently unknown. “Haunted” somewhat creatively tweaks a few such common themes and still ends up as a disappointment. The unfortunate reason for this is because the film shows that alternative routes to these routine expectations are just as dull and possibly more pedestrian.
The title of the movie is also the title of the fictional TV series being produced. Via opening text, “Haunted” explains the difference as being its ghost hunters are comprised of scoffers who believe paranormal activity is generally a load of hooey. Seems like a fresh switch from investigators quick to interpret every random knock and bit of garbled EVP static as a message from beyond. The pilot episode is also shot “live on tape” rather than assembled after the fact and the location is an abandoned railroad station in the UK. Right away the concept is familiar, yet different enough to not be totally redundant. At least they are not in a former mental hospital.
Though they might as well be. “Haunted” quickly abandons or forgets its real-time setup by forwarding time of day on the fly and by using fade-to-black transitions when it loses track of how to segue into another scene. Maybe this is where commercial breaks would have been? In any event, figuring it out on the movie’s behalf is not something the viewer should need to do.
Introducing the guest investigators of “Haunted” comes by way of actors standing in a circle swapping stories about why they are skeptics. Director Steven M. Smith makes a mistake in giving his cast free reign to talk over one another, presumably while improvising from a loose script. With three or more people speaking simultaneously at any given time, the impression is that everything said is filler to be tuned out. Otherwise, why would important dialogue be left hiding in babble from other voices? This persists so long that the brain disengages entirely under the assumption that nothing happening requires any serious attention.
And it doesn’t. Switching the location from the usual crumbling building to an isolated railway station ends up being a total bust. Instead of searching empty hallways and dusty rooms while jumping at shadows, the cast wanders the black of night outdoors where there is even less to see. There are no landmarks and no sense of space to create a setting of real interest.
Somewhere in the night, a shadow is seen. How anyone can make anything out in the endless black is a good question. “Haunted” does not have a compelling answer, despite the fact that the participants discuss this shadow for several minutes afterwards. A blurry image is boring enough. “Haunted” compounds the problem by devoting lengthy scenes to its characters recapping, dissecting, and inexplicably freaking out about a sighting that cannot be classified as anything other than a nonevent.
It happens again when contestant Freddie panics after seeing a face in a train window while conducting a “lone vigil.” Freddie regroups with the others inside the station and spends the next 13 minutes retelling his experience over and over again for anyone was not there. That group does not include the audience, who was in fact there, so who benefits from these exchanges and what is added to the film aside from an extended runtime?
Nothing of note occurs in the first place and “Haunted” cannot stop itself from going on and on about it. The viewer is punished by having to relive yawn-filled moments a second time through conversations trying vainly to convince someone that scares are to be found somewhere.
When the climax arrives, the presentation is a letdown in keeping with the flat pace of everything leading up to the finale. Although the story of the main ghost in “Haunted” identifies the stationmaster as having been 22-years-old, he appears in ghost form as a mutton-chopped old man in a cap who resembles a thin Captain Kangaroo. The camera abruptly cuts to his face here and there and the video goes wonky, making whatever is supposed to be taking place even more confusing.
It’s not that “Haunted” is poorly made, but it is so uneventful that it is never fun and it is certainly never frightening. “Found footage” movies that are more insulting in their exploitive nature and half-hearted attempts at plots at least have things going on. Favoring realism over entertainment in this case makes for a movie that had a good idea for a location and an updated take on the rote ghost hunt template, yet forgot to include genuine suspense anywhere in that formula.
Review Score: 20