Oh, Haunting At The Beacon, you scamp! As horror fans, we are often placed in the difficult position of defending a genre that many others have absolutely zero respect for. We ourselves are starving for good films, since it’s quite often that the people making these movies are the same people that have no respect for the genre. And too often, because we are so hungry, we give stuff a pass for being “good for what it is”. I have been guilty of it on occasion, and since I’m not a machine, I’m sure I’ll be guilty of it again.
Perhaps it’s that kind of thinking that actually perpetuates other people’s prejudice against the genre and its fans. It sends a message that we’re not intelligent or discerning. “It’s good for what it is”, by the way, is also a standard dismissal of people who do not understand horror. Then again, I’m the kind of person who loves almost every Friday The 13th, and while some of those are abjectly terrible they still hit the spot. “They’re good for what they are”.
Confused? Me too. Maybe I’m a hypocrite, but maybe some horror films should by judged only by what they set out to accomplish. Friday The 13th (2009) is a good example. As far as I’m concerned it hit the ball out of the park, I LOVED it. Yet I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who didn’t at least have a passing interest in slashers. Others, like The Thing or An American Werewolf In London or Rosemary’s Baby can be judged by a different standard – how well they compete within the pantheon of cinema in general. It’s a weird wrinkle in our reality.
Then there’s Haunting At The Beacon, which I can probably only recommend to my friend Brian Collins because he watches a horror movie every single day and thus there’s a SLIGHT mathematical chance that it won’t be the worst thing he’s seen all week.
Haunting At The Beacon doesn’t seem to respect horror movies at all and desperately wants to be so much more. It falls on its face in both regards. It doesn’t work as a horror movie, and it doesn’t work as any other kind of movie. You won’t be scared, moved, touched, or even entertained. Just want some kills? Not a good one in the film. What some genuine jump scares? Nope. Not here. Want anything resembling a conversation between two human beings? Look elsewhere. Competently photographed? Eh.
In Beacon Teri Polo (Meet The Parents) and David Rees Snell (“The Shield”) play Bryn and Paul shaw, a couple that lost their four year old son Danny* (literally, he hops a bale of hay at a carnival and is lost forever – assumed dead though no body was ever found) a few years back and are looking to start a new life in The Beacon Apartments. The Beacon looks and feels a lot like a hotel, and that’s because it is one. This was filmed on location at the “haunted” Rogers Hotel a few miles outside of Dallas (digitally composited to look like it’s in the middle of downtown). I’m not sure if they were hoping to catch real ghosts onscreen, but it’s a baffling location decision because the whole place looks so cold and uninviting that you wonder why a couple of decent means would move here in order to get some kind of new lease on life.
With Paul busy teaching Astronomy 101 during the day, Bryn soon enough starts seeing a ghostly little boy who resembles (but is not) their lost son and enlists the help of her husband’s awkward new teacher’s aid Simon (Jonny Cruz) to see if she can free this ghostly little boy from being a ghost – because maybe that way he will find and tell her lost and probably-ghost son that she loves him. Confused? That’s okay. So am I. Also in the mix are a pair of mismatched cops (Kelli Dawn Hancock and Ken Howard), goofy neighbor Will (Nick Sowell) with a crush on Bryn’s sister Christina (Marnette Patterson), a vampy but fading soap opera star (Elaine Hendrix) and Lieutenant Hutton (Michael Ironside) who has kind of “adopted” the Beacon. Oh, and the landlord Mr. Butters (Everett Sifuentes).
Along the way there’s some unintentionally amusing business about scissors used as crosses, a mild maiming by street sweeper, and one of the more ludicrous instances of being manipulated into infidelity that I’ve ever seen. We also learn that Bryn tried to kill herself following the loss of their son (she actually cut her wrists the *correct* way) which leads us to…
…pretty much everyone in the movie is a ghost** Or at least everyone who lives in The Beacon aside from Bryn and Paul. A rotting, zombie-ish, ghost with the ability to look normal. What do they want? Well they want Bryn to kill herself. Why? Well because the moment she slits her wrists they will all be able to feel once again – if only for a second. What will they fleetingly be able to feel? The moment of their own suicides. By the way these suicides were conducted via gunshot wound to the mouth, slitting one’s own throat with a pair of scissors, and drinking liquid drain cleaner. Why would they want to experience that moment again?
Is there anything good about it? Yes. Teri Polo is appealing and does what she can with the material. She’s not the most amazing actress on the planet but I’ve often wondered why she gets such disproportionately short shrift commercially aside from the Meet The Parents franchise. There are far worse actresses with careers that are comparatively thriving.
I’ll also concede that there are some great unintentional laughs along the way and Landlord Butters looks AMAZING as a ghost. Like if Luigi were a friendly zombie.
Overall though? Well, Haunting At The Beacon deals with some pretty serious subject matter which means if you’ve ever lost a child you should not see this movie. It’s also terrible, so even if you’ve never lost a child you should not see this movie.
*In the tradition of people in their 20’s playing high school students, the child actor who plays 4-year-old Danny Shaw appears to be about 8.
**Which means at one point, Paul has sex with a ghost. And there’s one scene where a ghost is beaten up with a fire extinguisher. Oh and a ghost rips someone’s vital organs out. Also, ghosts buy “Pert” brand shampoo.
Extras – Just one. A commentary track with writer/director Michael Stokes and producer Sally Helppie. It’s fairly dry and somewhat informative about the movie – for what it’s worth. We also learn that Michael Ironside optioned Stokes’ first script and has been fostering his career ever since.