Dead Still

DIRECTOR Philip Adrian Booth WRITER Philip Adrian Booth STARS Ray Wise, Ben Browder, Elle Lamont DIGITAL 9 February

REVIEW Rich Wilson

Dead StillDead Still comes from SyFy, the low-budget studio and satellite channel infamous for pitching super-sized animals against each other. And while Dead Still isn’t quite in the barrel-scraping territory of their previous offerings such as Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, this is still a generic and mostly poor effort that offers very little in both style and execution. Shot on digital video with a no-name cast and a truly dreadful synthesiser score, it looks and sounds cheap. Typical SyFy fare. Should you find yourself sprawled on the sofa late at night and it turns up on the tube you might wish to turn an eye to the screen, but to pay good cash and own a copy would be mistake.

Photographer Brandon inherits a Victorian camera that has been used to photograph the dead — a genuine practice of the era — and is now haunted by their spirits. When he snaps his subjects they begin to die, reappear as odd portraits, and start to terrorise his close family. Writer-director team the Booth Brothers never bother to explain why a modern-day photographer would start using a Box Brownie, but still, this does offer a first half with some entertainingly gory deaths. The story drifts into the absurd as Brandon’s son is trapped within the camera and enters another dimension filled with sub-standard creatures that appear to have wandered in from a video game. It’s an idea that could have worked in the hands of say, Guillermo Del Toro, but the Booths are far from the A-league, and remain content to throw one disconnected scene after another with no care for the narrative. The obligatory twist ending can be predicted long before the reveal, but by the time it comes the audience will have long lost interest.

Win: The Haunting of Black Wood

The Haunting of Black WoodThree strangers (Scott Eastwood, Sara Paxton, and Katherine Waterston) encounter one another at a secluded forest cabin, each with different reasons for arriving.  No matter how much they try, the three cannot escape the cabin.  The three discover a secret and realise that their lives are interconnected.  In order to get out of alive, they journey straight into a psychological nightmare.

The Haunting of Black Wood is out now. To win a DVD, enter details below.

The Haunting of Black Wood

WORDS James Gracey

The Haunting of Black WoodWith a plot revolving around several apparent strangers stranded at an isolated cabin in the creepy backwoods of beyond, audiences could be forgiven for assuming The Haunting of Black Wood is a tired retread of the likes of The Evil Dead and The Cabin in the Woods. Nothing could be further from the truth. Initially titled Enter Nowhere (a much more fitting title given the plot and central themes) the film is part sci-fi, part indie drama, part supernatural thriller.

Strongly influenced by the Twilight Zone and TV’s Lost, Haunting is initially reminiscent of the likes of Carnival of Souls, Dead End and Wind Chill. The set-up is carefully constructed and deliberately vague so as to milk every ounce of intrigue and tension. Just when you think it is about to plod along an Ambrose Bierce inspired death-dream/purgatorial-horror narrative, the twists start coming thick and fast. With each haunting revelation comes an abundance of questions, some of which remain teasingly unanswered — although certain events and outcomes are heavily signposted and eagle-eyed viewers won’t be surprised by the conclusion, which is itself a little too neat in contrast.

Taking their time establishing characters, writers Shawn Christensen and Jason Dolan’s central themes include guilt, the power of hindsight, the hold of the past over the present, the Sins of the Father and free will. These are deftly woven throughout as the characters slowly begin to realise all is not as it seems, and that they all share a mysterious link with one another. Director Jack Heller fuels the mystery with slow-burning tension, an atmosphere of uneasiness and jolting flashbacks hinting at prior personal horrors.

The Haunting of Black Wood is by no means groundbreaking but is testament to the ingenuity of its makers. At times the film is a little compromised by its obviously low budget, but the ideas and delivery hold everything together admirably. With a minimal cast — all uniformly strong, especially Sara Paxton whose troubled yet very likeable bad-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold is particularly compelling — and settings it has the feel of a stage play adaptation and ultimately engages thanks to its character-led plot and eerie suggestions of the supernatural. However as events build towards the denouement, there’s an obligatory race against time and while Heller builds tension, the result is a climax that isn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been, given the carefully constructed, slow-burning first half.

The Haunting of Black Wood is available on DVD on 2 February