Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The two leads have good chemistry...and it’s really this which drives the film." | Photo: courtesy of Frightfest

One of the problems with extremely polarised debates, no matter what the subject, is that they can blind us to broader possibilities. Rachel (Christen Sharice) has spent many years investigating supposed supernatural phenomena and is adamant that they do not exist. Claire (Haley Leary), a rival vlogger who has spent years getting excited about them, is equally convinced that they do. When the two find themselves thrown together in the investigation of a house where a child disappeared, viewers are left to wonder whether their determination to prove one another wrong will fade in time for them to recognise that they might be facing another kind of danger – one which they will need to work together to survive.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. Nothing ever is. The house has had a reputation for sinister going-on for some time. It used to be the home of a mysterious doctor (Eric Roberts) who was implicated in scandalous deeds. The child, Flora (Quinn Reames), lost her father at an early age and was being raised by a drug addicted mother (Erin Brown) who may miss her now but doesn’t seem to have taken very good care of her. Despite local sensationalism about the incident, the police do not seem to have made a very thorough search. The reason why the women can get access to the house now is that a local estate agent (with secrets of his own) is looking to sell it and reckons he can get a better price if any mystery is cleared up first.

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It’s not the only mystery in the area, with a nearby road said to be haunted by the Pale Woman, who supposedly died in a buggy accident and leads travellers astray with her lantern. Writer Torey Haas also throws in a suspicious-looking faceless doll which keeps turning up wherever Rachel is, despite her efforts to get rid of it, and gives Claire a tragic past in the form of a close friend’s suicide – just after a visit to the house. Despite Claire’s passion for the supernatural, she endeavours to take a rational approach to what she does, and there’s a nice conversation between the women early on in which they discuss the processes and requirements of doing good science, but it other ways they seem curiously ill-equipped for the job. Seasoned horror viewers will be begging them to stop when they decide to investigate the crawlspace underneath the building, but it’s still hard not to laugh when Claire, trying to figure out why it looks the way it does, says “Animals can’t dig through brick.” Mice would dispute that.

With so many story elements at work, director Tony Reames struggles to keep the film moving in a coherent direction. There are too many distractions from the fairly solid primary plot, and the ending is a disappointment, with various narrative conclusions simply piled on top of one another rather than interconnecting in meaningful ways. The two leads have good chemistry, however, and it’s really this which drives the film, as the women’s initially uneventful explorations start to throw up disturbing information and they gradually come to realise that they need each other. Their gradual softening makes both of them more likeable, but doesn’t lead to the loss of their distinct personalities, and they don’t so much change their worldviews as adapt them to take account of what they discover. The friendship which develops in this space is a result not of a unification of perspective but a recognition that it isn’t all-important.

The film also benefits from good sound design by Harper W Harris, always vital in haunted house stories but forced to work harder this time around because everything is challenged. Magnificently spooky set decoration in one key area is more effective because the sets are fairly plain and straightforward elsewhere, whilst the dressing of a local museum neatly captures the atmosphere of small towns where spooky stories are about the only thing available to trade. Spookt is a modest little film but suits that environment well, having the quality of urban legend. It screened as part of Frightfest 2023 but seems likely to find its natural home online, alongside spooky vlogs like those of its heroines.

Reviewed on: 26 Aug 2023
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Spookt packshot
When a paranormal investigator and a sceptic join forces to discover the truth behind a girl's disappearance, they are confounded by unexplained events.

Director: Tony Reames

Starring: Christen Sharice, Hayley Leary, Erin Brown, Eric Roberts

Year: 2023

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


Frightfest 2023

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