The Poltergeist of Borley Forest (2013)

JUNE 1, 2015


A friend of mine made a haunted house movie that was pretty well received by those who saw it, and years later he still busts my balls about it because he knows I dislike haunted house movies more often than not and figured I'd hate it. But I actually quite liked it, and since I did I've tried to keep more of an open mind about such fare since. Alas, movies like the Poltergeist remake and now The Poltergeist of Borley Forest are exactly the sort of bland things that made me dislike the sub-genre in the first place. I know these kind of movies CAN work on me even as an adult, but whatever that secret ingredient is that makes me like so few of them is definitely missing here.

To be fair it's more of a typical ghost film than a haunted house one (the original title was "You Will Love Me", I assume it's been retitled due to the timeliness of its DVD release - very Asylum-level thinking, Image), but it's got several tropes of the HH film, and just about every (attempt at a) scare takes place inside the heroine's home, so it's safe to put it alongside the actual Poltergeists and The Haunting in your virtual video store shelves. The key difference is that our heroine, a fairly obnoxious girl named Paige, attracts the poltergeist's attention in the titular woods and it follows her home, where it does most of its thing before a climax that returns to the woods. Perhaps if they spent more time there than in the nondescript suburban home that serves as the primary location, the film would be a little more exciting, or at least less drab to look at.

I'll give them this much - at least they didn't go found footage. There's actually a focus on tech - Paige's confiscated/reclaimed cell phone is a major plot point and two of the male characters spend giant chunks of their screentime looking at computers - so ironically it wouldn't be much of a stretch to think that these kids filmed everything, and it was shot in 2011 when such films were all the rage. But no, it's traditionally shot, at least in a general sense. Part of what undoes the film is the director's obnoxious tendency to shoot scenes by panning or tracking back and forth as the actor talks. It's fine (if ill-fitting) for scenes of someone sitting alone or master shots of a group doing something, but when he does it during a conversation it might cause a headache. With careful planning the approach might work, but the execution just has two closeups being cut to back and forth like a traditional conversation in a movie, but with the camera jarringly moving around and none of the cuts coming off gracefully. It's hard to explain why it doesn't work without actually seeing it, but trust me - it'll drive you nuts too if you bother to watch the movie.

As to whether or not you should do that... I'd advise against it. The plot isn't too bad (especially for a teen-friendly horror film) but the clunky presentation does it no favors, and it's so drawn out (100+ minutes!) that it's likely to easily lose the attention of its target audience long before the story kicks into gear. None of the actors are particularly good (though I enjoyed the guy playing the doctor's seeming attempt at a Malcolm McDowell impression), and again the heroine isn't exactly a character you will instantly fall in love with. She's kind of snooty and childish, and we barely get to know her before she's put in danger, something the movie can't quite recover from. From that point she's either trying to figure out what's going on, or seemingly forgetting about it entirely as she is wooed by a new coworker of her brother's, so there's nothing for us to latch onto. There's a subplot about her friend that was supposed to be with her when she went off alone in the woods and unleashed hell upon herself, but it's kind of a stupid one - she's mad at the friend for not showing up, but how is it her fault that Paige was dumb enough to go into the woods alone in the middle of the night?

At least I think that's why there is strife in this relationship that is never properly established before it becomes strained. At times the movie approaches Beneath the Mississippi-ian levels of bad audio recording, where conversations go by with the mic only really picking up one of the speaking actors, leaving the other one muffled and occasionally indecipherable. Weird echoes abound as well, as if people were recorded in a bathroom, and what I can only assume is an attempt to hide the bad recording with a frequent score is unsuccessful. This is the first feature film from the crew (a group of pals/filmmakers from Florida, named Liberty Lane Productions) after making several shorts - I can forgive the plodding storytelling on growing pains from filmmakers used to telling stories quickly, but not the abhorrent audio production. This is something they should have figured out after the first short, and apparently they still haven't gotten it right after four or five? Unacceptable.

The same problem plagues the behind the scenes video, which focuses on the project's origins and some of its production before randomly stopping, as if they were only halfway through editing the piece and ran out of time or something. At least it shows the fun way they pulled off the ghost above the bed" effect, by having a guy jump from a chair onto the bed and using the frames where he's in mid air to superimpose in slow speed over the footage of the girls in bed screaming. Cool, lo-fi trick that actually produces a kind of effective visual. And thankfully the piece explains that they had no money, were making the movie guerrilla style (cops were called for filming somewhere without permits), etc. Still doesn't explain why they couldn't bother to buy an extra lav mic for scenes with two people, but at least you can tell that they're enthusiastic and well-meaning about their film - the cynicism that permeates many an independent horror film is wholly absent here. It's the sort of thing that makes me wish I liked the movie more, because I see so many ones that are just made by people who want to make a buck and otherwise have no passion for what they're doing. These folks clearly do (or they're better actors than the ones they hired), but passion is just one of the things you need to make a good movie. Better luck next time! Seriously!

What say you?


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