NOVEMBER 18, 2011
The writers of some twist movies seemingly work backwards from a pre-conceived twist (The Village seems to be a good example), and others seemingly pull one out of their ass when they get bored with their own narrative somewhere in the third act. Haunting At The Beacon (formerly just The Beacon) writer/director Michael Stokes certainly seems to be one of the latter types; what starts out as a decent enough "is she crazy or is she seeing ghosts?" movie turns into a ridiculous, plot-hole ridden tale that tries to combine a potentially fun Tales From The Crypt style twist and a typical Lifetime channel horror movie, and (unsurprisingly) fails.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
Now, the idea of a twist where you find out someone was a ghost for the entire movie is nothing new, and it can be done quite brilliantly (just ask Mr. Willis). But when you find out that nearly EVERY CHARACTER in the movie was a ghost, it's just idiotic. Especially when so many of them are seen carrying out their normal lives: going on dates, dressing up for Halloween, etc. Christ, at one point a guy that turns out to be a ghost goes down to the landlord (also a ghost) and causes a distraction so that a human can snoop around, even though the end of the movie reveals that these ghosts are all pretty much working toward the same goal.
Also, again, we can buy one ghost, but how do they explain an entire building full of people that no one seems to be aware are actually dead? Their number includes a famous actress, and one of the still living folks looks her up online - you'd think her death would have been noticed by now? Another is a cop that interacts with other cops - none of them knew about his original death? Again, it seems like Stokes just up and decided to pull this twist out without bothering to go back and make sure it matched up with the previous 80 pages of his script. As I've said before, you might go back and feel dumb for not figuring out that Bruce was dead in Sixth Sense, but there isn't a single thing that doesn't jive with the idea, at least that I've ever caught in 5-6 times watching the flick. Certainly nothing that I thought of right away. And you can get away with plot holes as long as the movie's fun enough to not really notice them until you give it serious thought later on, but this one is too uneventful to qualify for that sort of pass.
It's also one of those horror movies that seems unwilling to kill anyone, despite the R rating. Teri Polo is the heroine and most recognizable actor in the movie, so of course she's fine even though the ghost appears to her more often, but why does her sister survive? In one of the most ridiculous scenes I've viewed all year, the girl picks up a doll in the street as a very slow moving street sweeper makes its way toward her. She steps back on the curb, so the ghost appears inside the truck's cab, distracting the driver, which causes him to swerve up on the curb (still going about 5 mph) and hit her anyway. But she doesn't die - she just loses her legs (hilarious reveal) and gets a bump on her head. However, she doesn't play any part in the rest of the movie, so why not just kill her? It'd be one thing if she escaped the hospital and made her way back to the Beacon to save the day, but she's never seen again.
Oh yeah, The Beacon. For a place that's so important to these ghosts, they sure don't mind leaving it every day, even though that goes against the usual rule of ghosts (even ones that DON'T have any sort of spoken fondness for their locale). In addition to jumping into the street sweeper, Polo follows one to the other side of town, the guy down the hall randomly goes to their office Halloween party, etc. A better script would have found clever/unnoticeable ways to never leave the apartment building. In fact, the movie Circle Of Eight actually has a similar scenario, and they were wise enough to set the entire movie there (but not fully explain their twist - I'm still getting people leaving comments with their theories. Sadly I can't remember enough about the movie to agree/disagree) - it's a shame Stokes didn't see how this could not only save time/money (fewer locations, less travel) but make his twist work a bit better as well.
But again, for the most part it's a harmless enough little movie. Polo is perfectly suited for this sort of thing - she's probably never going to be an A-lister, but she's engaging and personable enough to earn our sympathies and create a real person out of thin material, and has a nice chemistry with the guy playing her husband. There are a few nice little subtle ghost shots (particularly one no one but the audience notices, in a closet early on), and Stokes gets some mileage out of their tragic backstory - their son was presumed drowned but the body was never found. There's a hint that the ghost they are seeing is their son, only to discover that it's a kid who lived there, which leaves the possibility that the son is still alive - it's an interesting way to create a bit of mystery, as you wonder when the son subplot will tie into the ghost one. Also, it takes the entire movie to see them properly, but Vincent Guastini's FX work for the ghost folk (basically zombie/demon things, not transparent spectres) is quite good. I'm so used to seeing Ring-wannabe ghosts in these things (blacked out eyes, jittery movements), it's nice to see an old-school approach, which is better anyway.
Since this was a Starz Play offering on Netflix, the movie was full frame and looked like shit; I assume the DVD is a much better option. I know it will reduce the number of available titles, but I can't wait for the day (in February!) that Starz pulls the rest of its stuff off the service - whether the movie turns out to be good or bad, at least I know I won't have to endure one of their terrible transfers again. Personally I would think Netflix would be happy to improve the overall level of quality that their service provides by dumping all this garbage, but sadly most of the people using the service think the streams look just as good as DVD anyway, so it's not like there's any need to provide quality control - the average Netflix customer's ignorance is key to improving their bottom line. I assume some of the movies will come back through other means, but just in case: you only have about three months left to not bother with this one if it pops up in your "recommended" page.
What say you?