OCTOBER 22, 2011
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (FESTIVAL SCREENING)
Sometimes you can just tell a movie is "off" almost right off the bat. There's nothing wrong with a slow burn movie - some of the best horror movies don't open with a bang of any sort (Psycho and Blair Witch come to mind), and Stormhouse actually "gets going" quicker than those films. But within 5 minutes of the film's running time, I knew this one just wasn't going to work, and possibly derail Screamfest's otherwise above average strong lineup - this was the first and only stinker of the fest.
Before I go further I do want to point out that while I try to avoid negative reviews of movies that have not been picked up as of yet, I had no other options for today; Rites of Spring and Cassadaga were made by friends of mine, and Innkeepers has already been reviewed (Rabies I had to skip due to another engagement). Also, with fellow ghost movie Paranormal 3 scaring up the biggest opening for a horror movie ever, I'm sure it will have no problem landing a deal even with a negative review on a very below the radar blog, as studios will be wanting to jump on the bandwagon with anything they can promote as being similar.
In fact it also has some "found footage" appeal, with a number of scary moments occurring on surveillance camera, though for the most part it's shot like a regular movie, albeit one without a decent lighting budget. Part of the problem with the movie anyway is the lack of strong characterization for the assorted folks inside the military base in which the entire movie takes place, making it difficult to tell some of them apart. But making things worse is the Hyams-esque lighting; the closest thing to a male hero in the film doesn't get a well lit close-up until his 4th or 5th scene!
Keeping the audience further at bay is the movie's terrible sound mixing, rendering many lines incomprehensible (joke during the movie: "Putting the 'mumble' in mumblecore!"), or just plain laughable. Midway through the movie some important Major type guy shows up, but his lines all sound like they were recorded inside a bathroom stall (with the recorder on the other side of the door), giving his scenes - which are supposed to be tense - a hilariously hallucinatory feel. I assume they redubbed the actor and just didn't do it right? Either way - there's no way to save the movie as a whole without major reshoots/re-edits, but they can at least improve the sound mix for their next screening.
Unfortunately it would still be Stormhouse, the poorly paced, laughably stupid at times ghost movie that boils down to a haunted basketball "angrily" bouncing around. At its core is a decent idea (with a minor twist at the end that would have been awesome if there was any reason to care about what led up to it), concerning a "captured" ghost that seeks to break free of its "cell" by methodically turning the people in the base against each other while doing typical ghost shit like making all of the objects in a room fly around, Poltergeist-style. But it's like the script goes out of its way to be silly, completely deflating any tension the movie might have had.
Screenwriter Jason Arnopp is best known for writing Doctor Who radio dramas and such (not the actual TV show, best as I can tell), and thus some of that show's comical surrealism finds its way into the movie, but unfortunately only during the 3rd act, where even a comedic horror film usually starts getting serious. Had it been a bit silly from the start, maybe it would work, but when the first hour or so is just generic/boring ghost movie stuff and then all of a sudden there's a basketball menacingly making its way toward one of our heroes, it's just obnoxious.
The script also has too many idiotic and unbelievable moments, even by horror movie standards. At one point a thumbprint is needed to open an elevator door, so they obtain it from the now-dead high level character by seemingly just ripping it from his hand (maybe they had a knife; the actual act occurs just below the camera's range). One character turns traitor, trapping the others in another room and then when he calls the elevator he just tosses the thumb on the floor. Fine, but when the girl gets free and run up to the elevator, she looks on the floor EXACTLY where he threw it down, as if tossing a "key" aside after it was used once was typical behavior. Also (spoiler!) the haunted basketball gets out of the base and over the heavy fence surrounding the place, only to be INSTANTLY taken away by a group of kids who were apparently just running around in the woods near the military base that's supposed to be in the middle of nowhere. As my friend pointed out, it's like the kids had some sort of radar that alerted them to a free basketball lying around nearby.
Again, had the entire movie operated under this sort of random/silly MO, then maybe this wouldn't be a big deal - but instead it feels like the writer got bored with his own script, said "aw, fuck it..." and went all out with whatever came to his head for the rest. In fact the movie often gets deadly serious - the "interrogation" of a suspected terrorist (the movie takes place in 2002, halfway between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war), making the other stuff seem even more ill-advised. You can't have 9/11 allusions in a movie with a haunted fucking basketball!
And it's a shame because some of the creep out moments (mostly in the first act) actually work well, mostly because they are of the subtle variety and thus don't require too much acting prowess from our largely inadequate cast, with Katherine Flynn being particularly obnoxious with her overly happy demeanor, smiling and giggling at pretty much everything she says or sees (her expression upon seeing the ugly, isolated base is akin to someone seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time). The only one who managed to have any sort of memorable personality was Martin Delaney as Brandon (per the IMDb, I could have sworn he was named "Simon" in th emovie), who plays the typically droll/sarcastic communications officer who spends most of his screentime watching stuff on the monitors and making comments about it; in a way he's sort of the audience surrogate, watching something and then more or less complaining how dull it is.
Oh well. No festival is without a runt in the litter, so at least Screamfest's came on the last day (the schedule seemed to be front-loaded with the best movies, in fact). I'm sure there will be an audience for it, and even though they botch it on nearly every level, the ghost/military hybrid is unique enough to warrant some appreciation, as does the fact that they seem to be aping Event Horizon's set design at times. Plus, it DOES ultimately turn into a haunted basketball movie, which in many ways I applaud; the real problem is the interminable part of the movie that comes first.
What say you?