It’s tough to come up with original ideas for film. Hell, horror fans have known this for a long time. Hollywood has done everything from use the word “remake” to “re-imagining” to “reboot” to cover up the fact that they haven’t got an idea for something original. Granted, even in films that fall into those categories, there are directors and writers who at least try to add something new to the original formula. Or, in some cases, take familiar premises and tweak them just enough to make the results unique. With Ghosts Of Darkness, writer/director David Ryan Keith takes a stab at the haunted house subgenre with familiar premise on top of familiar premise. But the base question of whether those old premises add up to something new is a question.
Scientific ghost hunter and sceptic Jack Donovan (Michael Koltes) and psychic Jonathan Blazer (Paul Flannery) have agreed to a request by a mysterious man (Steve Weston) to spend three nights in Richmond Manor (for a cool $50,000 each) to debunk rumours that are keeping the building from being sold to the locals. Turns out that the house has a mystery dating back hundreds of years involving blood and demons, as well as a personal secret.
Given that the bulk of the film centres around our two protagonists being alone in the house with each other, there had better be focus on the character development as well as their chemistry. Thankfully, Koltes and Flannery are more than up for the task. Flannery’s background as a comic and stage actor makes sense that he’s the film’s token comic relief in Blazer. Mercifully, he’s not overbearing or the bungling type. Combining bravado, sly quips and a goatee reminiscent of Johnny Depp, Flannery definitely appears to relish the role. In contrast, Koltes is the straight man of the duo in Donovan, providing a serious tone that wonderfully plays off and against his easygoing counterpart. Unfortunately, Koltes does have a few struggles with some flat delivery, although some of it is partly masked by his character’s sombre demeanour. As the film progresses, we learn more of Donovan’s past and the explanation of why he’s such a dour individual, which as previously mentioned, ties into the happenings within the house. And as expected, Donovan and Blazer knock heads more than once, but it predictably moves towards an amicable partnership.
As far as the effects go (of which I’m a sucker, naturally), there’s a mix of practical and CGI, the latter of which isn’t exactly the greatest. Granted, this is an indie film, and there are some effects that fare better, but the obviously CG glowing eyes in the closet at the start of the film, and the sequence that looks ripped out of a videogame at the end of the film, aren’t what you’d call “appropriate”. Luckily, the practical effects aren’t as suspect. The makeup for some of the ghosts is particularly gruesome, and the stabbings and impalings are all done without the blatancy of CGI. It makes you wish that David Ryan Keith had gone more with the practical effects, rather than putting money into something that wasn’t going to fly, even for a low-budget indie film.
Suspect CGI notwithstanding, you’ve probably assumed that there’s a lot of things in Ghosts Of Darkness that you’ve seen before. Sadly, you’d be right. The same clichés from other haunted house films. Apart from the same premise as other haunted house films, the usual spooky happenings (flies on the window, doors opening/slamming on their own, creepy kids running around), the same special effects (seriously, how many films have used that same inky black cloud effect?), the odd couple forced to work together, the dark secrets and so on, there’s not a lot here that you haven’t seen before in other films. The fact that Ghosts Of Darkness has that indie look and feel doesn’t help it, either. It’s understandable that there are some things that will be similar across films in the genre, but there has to be an attempt to throw more into your film to make it stand out. And that shouldn’t involve more clichés.
I really don’t relish in slamming a film that had something great to use as a base, but Ghosts Of Darkness makes it hard. The chemistry between Koltes and Flannery is wasted on a script that feels way too derivative and contrived, with visual effects that just add insult to injury. There have been other indie films that have taken ideas from films we’ve all seen before, but these films have also gone to great lengths to add new twists that complement and surpass those “me-too” ideas. Ghosts Of Darkness either doesn’t do this, or just gives a half-hearted attempt. It’s a quick appetizer at best before you get to the better stuff.
Ghosts Of Darkness premiers on VOD March 7th.