Booooooo (the disapproving kind, not the scary kind)
I was so hyped for this. The trailer looked fantastic, and I’m a sucker for anthology horror. Even if the quality of the shorts was uneven, I enjoyed the original V/H/S‘s use of a frame story.
This movie’s frame story sounded even better – a guy whose whole career is debunking the supernatural is confronted by a former fellow debunker with three unexplainable cases that he challenges him to debunk.
Unfortunately the movie takes that great premise and does essentially nothing with it. The three stories go nowhere and the frame story ends up a waste of time. There’s some cool effects and the movie is full of solid performances and good cinematography, but it’s not backed up by a worthwhile story.
Director: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: April 20th, 2018 (VOD and limited theatrical)
We start out with Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) dunking on a John Edwards type and letting a grieving mother know that her kid is 100% deadzo. Cool.
We quickly learn that his inspiration, Charles Cameron (who mysteriously disappeared years prior) is actually alive and wants to meet with him. Cameron, who’s in some of the worst old-man makeup I’ve seen since Prometheus, tosses Goodman three cases that made him give up on his life’s work. Three cases that are in three suspiciously thin blue folders. ONLY THREE CASES, and he decided that was enough to run away from a lifetime of unmasking charlatans. As though doing so didn’t matter because an extremely small percentage of cases were head-scratchers. It’s a plot element that held zero water for me, and immediately put me on the path to uh-oh town for the quality of what I was about to see.
What follows are three largely unfinished, not particularly original horror shorts that don’t quite fit into the framework presented. Cameron seemed like he’d been missing for ages, but all 3 shorts felt fairly recent. Maybe they worked better in the stage play that this film is based on? Anyway, they all came off like episodes of X-Files that ended at the first commercial break. I legitimately liked the ideas behind all 3 scenarios presented, so it’s a shame they weren’t thought out past the initial premise.
The first is an interview with a guy who guarded a spooky building, and unsurprisingly, there’s a spooky thing in it. That’s pretty much it. Goodman never even goes to investigate it, just talks to the guy in the file. I’m immediately suspicious of his thoroughness as an investigator.
Next, and most interesting, is a kid who had an encounter with something demonic in the woods, and it followed him home. It’s taken over his family and his house. Not knowing what to do or who to turn to, he becomes obsessed with researching demonology. That’s it! I would’ve loved to see this expanded on, but Goodman is like WELP THAT WAS WEIRD and then decides a knocked over tree fully explains the case, because it kinda sorta looks roughly like a thing the kid describes.
Last is the laziest, in terms barely having any substance. A guy (Martin Freeman) is dealing with the recent passing of his wife in childbirth and their stillborn child. He actually seems not too upset by it, and it appears his wife and baby are gonna haunt him now. His character is played like he’s maybe a shitty person, but no further context is given. Why his wife appears to him as fucked up zombie looking thing is not explored. The only saving grace of this whole segment is a really neat, apparently practical poltergeist effect.
So, the movie blows through these segments, and all the while there are extremely, extremely obvious things connecting the segments together, chiefly some giant, out-of-place numbers that keep showing up, and certain elements that repeat throughout. I was like ugh, alright, all 3 are connected to each other and to the frame story, and it’s going to be something stupid.
I was right! No spoilers, but let’s just say that my worst-case-scenario ending that I jokingly scribbled down in my notes halfway through the movie WAS CORRECT. It’s the most tired, hacky, unoriginal bullshit ending. I was hoping beyond all hope that it was a fakeout twist, but it was not. It also completely invalidates everything else that happens in the movie. On one level, I ‘get’ the ending, insomuch that all the ‘hints’ you get do technically point to the finale, but it’s so, so dumb.
Worst of all, the ending fully sidesteps the crux of the story, which is three cases that are SO CRAZY AND UNEXPLAINABLE that it turned a Scully into a Mulder. Only the demonology case even comes close, and the other two aren’t even directly experienced by Goodman – he just hears about them from firsthand sources. So really, the movie should’ve just focused on the demonology story, and then had a real ending instead of Lost-level nonsense.
So overall, you get incomplete versions of two standard haunted house stories and one alternate take on Drag Me to Hell, wrapped in garbage. None of the shorts matter because they exist solely to serve the terrible frame story.
It’s at least a well made movie, with good performances, cinematography, and effects, that all conspire to trick you into thinking this might be better than it is. The three stories each had potential. If you threw the frame story in the trash where it belongs and made a show with fully realized versions of each, I’d be there for it. This, as it was presented, was just dumb.
If “the brain sees what it wants to see”, as the movie kept reiterating, my brain would’ve spent time watching something else. Maybe the similarly named actually-good-but-not-actually-scary A Ghost Story.
Or hell, even the identically named anime.