Director: Daric Gates
Writer: Daric Gates, Matthew J. Ryan
Producer: Will Wallace, Conroy Kanter, Matthew J. Ryan, Daric Gates, Brent M. Quinones, Chris Roberts, Jody Mortara
Stars: Will Wallace, Don Swayze, Dean Cain, Emily Brooks, Wolfgang Bodison, Conroy Kanter, Hope Williams, Elizabeth Florer, Charlie Eliza Kanter
A connection between a reportedly haunted house and a repressed memory from her past leads one woman along a path towards demonic possession.
For an independent horror filmmaker, making a movie on the famous backlot of Universal Studios must be akin to a Little Leaguer taking an at-bat in Dodger Stadium. Who can fault any Alfred Hitchcock fan for wanting to put the original Bates house from “Psycho” onscreen in his/her own low-budget thriller? Yet what “The Appearing” director/co-writer Daric Gates neglects to consider is that such a world-renowned visage will only ever be associated with one franchise. And satisfying that fanboy indulgence comes at the expense of immersing the viewer in a believable fantasy.
Unless Norman Bates is a character in the story, it is impossible to look at those notorious stone steps and distinctly foreboding silhouette of the home above without immediately thinking, “that’s the Psycho House on the Universal Studios backlot.” Although when it comes to producing a movie riddled with innumerable distractions, “The Appearing” has bigger fish to fry.
One of the first things “The Appearing” makes clear is its intentional Christian-centric theme. A wooden cross appears on the wall of at least three different locations. It looks like the same cross in fact, suggesting everyone in town buys their religious paraphernalia from the same store, or the set dressing department just recycled one prop. Scripture is cited five times with verse numbers included, as two characters exhibit total recall of Bible quotes and two more have the Good Book readily available for quick reference.
Before rolling eyes and dismissing the film as immediately lacking in tension and terror because of its heavy Biblical elements, understand that even though the motif is obvious, “The Appearing” refrains from any heavy-handed philosophy or preaching agenda. Indeed, the movie is still lacking in tension and terror. But that comes from a dull script and languid visual storytelling, as opposed to any aim for feel good morality or to enforce Christian values.
This is a movie that just happens to have been made by people structuring their story around concepts close to them. It isn’t one of those religious propaganda promotions masquerading as a movie that sometimes slips into the mainstream.
Headlining the cast is Dean Cain, who you will forget is even in the movie by the time it ends because his character is so inconsequential, and Don Swayze, who actually turns in a very good performance considering the room temperature material. Use of the word “actually” in the preceding sentence can be construed as mildly glib, since it implies cellar floor expectations to begin with. But let’s face facts. Any time credits bill a Swayze, Stallone, Travolta, Estevez, or Baldwin other than the most obvious one, the safe bet is it was done for stunt casting and not for performance prowess.
Actor Will Wallace carries the lion’s share of the runtime, although he turns his role into a challenge to count how often he scrunches his eyebrows no matter what he means to emote. Similar distractions include a dead body on a morgue slab that cannot sit still, and a curiously laid out hospital that has a psych ward loon behind a chain-link fence right outside a psychiatrist’s office. Because what medical facility wouldn’t want mentally unstable patients walking past a raving lunatic after being counseled for suicidal tendencies?
The plot is a smorgasbord of clichéd threads starting with a troubled husband and wife escaping to a small town for a fresh start following a family tragedy. Of course, this is the type of small town where high-schoolers in their late teens played by actors in their late twenties tell tales of unsolved disappearances, demonic possession, and a haunted house in the woods.
That description makes it sound like the movie has a lot more going on than it actually does. In reality, “The Appearing” is a snail’s pace slog through a story that may have started with sound intentions, but ultimately has no momentum to move it through a tepid tone occupied by long stretches of quiet and longer stretches of expository conversation. The scariest thing about the movie is the prospect of falling asleep suddenly and hitting your head on the armrest.
“The Appearing” is a slow burn horror thriller without the thrills, the horror, or even the burn. Unless you count being lured by a “based on true events” premise that is anything but, or having invested an expectation of finding an entertaining thriller heavy on frights, originality, and production value. In those cases, I suppose the “joke’s on you” disappointment might in fact count as a burn.
Review Score: 30