Studio: Marquis Productions
Director: Matthew Bolton
Writer: Matthew Bolton, Chris W. Freeman
Producer: Rob Filson, Chris W. Freeman, Justin Jones
Stars: Sabrina Villalobos, Derrick Scott, Chelsea Vincent, Brett Edwards, Oliver Rayon, Nadia Underwood, Amanda Barton
When a college research project at an abandoned sanitarium results in five deaths, an agent questions the lone survivor while reviewing footage recovered from the scene.
“Paranormal Incident” opens on John, a man confined to a hospital bed. We know it is a hospital because of the incessant beeping from the heart rate monitor next to him. It does not seem to actually be monitoring his heart rate, though. Instead, it beeps in accordance with the annoyance level of having to hear it constantly in every single one of his scenes. How he is expected to rest while surrounded by this infernal racket I have no idea.
As part of a class project, six university students plan to record their exploration of the reportedly haunted Odenbrook Sanitarium. I knew Pepperdine was a Liberal Arts college, but I would be one unhappy parent to discover I was footing the tuition bill for a curriculum in paranormal investigation. Good luck putting that degree to practical use in the real world.
In a plot turn that will surprise no one, the sanitarium expedition yields tragic results. John is the only survivor of the paranormal activi— er, incident, but he has no recollection of what happened. Interrogating John is an “agent” of some sort named Rebecca. She aims to jog John’s memory by reviewing the various recordings recovered from the crime scene with him.
It seems John is now the prime suspect in the murders of the other five students. Never mind that the tapes they are watching clearly show an unknown blonde woman in a hospital gown dancing over corpses and a lanky man accompanied by a three-foot tall woman outfitted in vintage clothes. If John ever wants to see the other side of his confinement, he had better come up with an explanation for the deaths. Why he needs to explain anything when they have tapes of the entire weekend from at least nine different cameras should be the first question he addresses.
Along with the sanitarium, other things in “Paranormal Incident” that are abandoned include subplots and characterization. The students are initially introduced with some vague personalities that they evidently forget once the plot starts rolling. Samantha identifies herself as the resident skeptic, scoffing in her interview about how silly it is to believe in the supernatural. Yet she is the first one to jump to the conclusion that every bump, sound, or thump must be something paranormal. A briefly set up love story between two leads holds no weight whatsoever, as the two characters involved have no scenes alone and only appear onscreen in the same group for a collective two minutes.
Helping nothing is throwaway dialogue. Example: One character says as his group pulls onto the hospital grounds, “this is the place guys.” Thanks for the clarification. I was worried we might be at the wrong abandoned asylum completely surrounded in barbwire.
While exploring the sanitarium, the group finds an old film reel and a projector that fills in a bit of backstory on the hospital’s past. Even though there are no dirt spots on the remarkably well-preserved footage, we can be sure it is old since it is sepia toned and some ragtime jazz music plays through a phonograph filter in the background. Because every doctor would have wanted music playing over patient interviews just to be certain the film was dated appropriately to the time period.
In a move that is either utterly brilliant or implausibly ludicrous (I cannot decide which), “Paranormal Incident” features an ending that seeks to redefine the term, “deus ex machina.” In one fell swoop, the story explains why the set appears so cheap and the interrogation feels so staged. I am not sure I have ever seen an independent feature use its story to explain away the low budget look and plot holes, but it almost borders on genius. Too bad it plays like the scene was pulled from a rejected “Resident Evil” script.
I have nothing against “found footage” movies about paranormal hauntings, no matter how well covered that territory may be. But if it cannot be original, at least be scary or otherwise unique. “Paranormal Incident” is none of the above. It is just another uninteresting movie that will eject from the memory long before it does from the DVD player.
Review Score: 20