Tuesday 23 February 2010

Death of a Ghost Hunter

Shortly after I saw Paranormal Activity, I found this film on Netflix and though I meant to add it to my queue, I didn't.  I don't know why.  I guess I was still riding the PA indie high and wasn't ready yet to come back down to earth.  Well, I finally crashed a little while ago and got round to queuing up Death of a Ghost Hunter.

In 1982, the Mastersons were murdered in their home.   Twenty years later, the nephew of the dead patriarch has hired ghost hunter Carter Simms to investigate the house.  Though Carter prefers to work alone, she's joined by videographer Colin, journalist Yvette, and Mary Young, who is there to protect the good name of the Masterson family.  Over three days and nights, the team record and review their experiences.  Carter self-identifies as a skeptic, but even she can't refute the evidence for a haunting in the Masterson house.

The film begins like a lot of other found footage-type movies, with a disclaimer.  But Death of a Ghost Hunter is not a found footage film.  Rather, it's a docudrama recounting Carter's doomed investigation.  Since we already know how the story ends, the point is to watch the events unfold.  Unfortunately, the film plays more like a reenactment than a docudrama, which is a bit of a shame, really.  The story's quite good but gets bogged down in voice-over and exposition.  What's more, the reenactment fails to fully explain the hows and whys of the haunting.

The problem is one of execution.  As I said, the film has a solid story but its telling leaves something to be desired.  Carter and her companions have no doubts the house is haunted, and though they find some things to suggest the Mastersons were into some weird shit, they never find out exactly what was going on.  Moreover, the film begins on that fateful night in 1982 and there's an expectation that these events will be fully explained, yet that final explanation, when it comes, is presented as a kind of epilogue--it exists outside the experiences of Carter and her friends.  The overall effect is a lack of closure for the ghost hunters.

In addition to structural issues, the films suffers a few logic problems as well.  Somewhat unbelievably, a good part of the story hinges on a flawed understanding of police procedure, but the problem doesn't present itself until the very end of the movie.  This gap in logic doesn't completely negate the entire story, which is a blessing, but results in those structural problems I mentioned above.

Death of a Ghost Hunter starts off strong and in spite of its poor second half, the movie does manage to make an interesting statement about ghosts and hauntings.  Most haunted house movies focus on the experiences of the people being haunted as they suffer through and eventually come to understand the haunting.  These movies take for granted the haunting itself, rarely commenting on the experiences of the ghosts after death.  Death of a Ghost Hunter briefly explores this other side, and though it completely destroys the narrative device, the ghosts' point of view is an inspired bit of filmmaking.

I'm curious to see what the filmmakers do next, and whether they've learned from their mistakes; this film serves as an example of how story and logic problems accumulate, eventually taking over the narrative structure.  However, with a solid foundation and a couple of genuinely creepy moments, Death of a Ghost Hunter is still a good indie ghost story.

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