In 10 Words or Less
Computerized fright fest falls short of real scares
Everyone's heard the term "That's pretty good...for a girl." Essentially, it's a way of complimenting someone, while at the same time putting their accomplishments into context. Sure it's sexist, but everyone knows what you mean when you say it. So when I say that The Ghosts of Edendale is pretty good...for an indie, you know where I'm coming from.
The movie tells the story of Rachel (Paula Ficara) and Kevin (Stephen Wastell), a pair of East Coasters heading west to try their hand at becoming screenwriters. They make their new home on Edendale, a hilly street in Los Angeles. Their neighbors (including Lost in La Mancha directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton) are all in the industry, and they quickly welcome Rachel and Kevin into the fold. They're friendly people, but creepy at the same time.
While Kevin's fitting right in and making great headway with his script, Rachel's having troubling visions and getting more uncomfortable by the day. It's revealed that she left the East Coast to get away from her stressful modeling career (more on that later.) The pressure of the job caused her to suffer mental problems. Now, she fears they may be returning. Of course, Kevin, who's becoming obsessed with his script and the movie history of their new neighborhood, is no help, as he becomes distant and angry.
With the tension with her boyfriend high and her visions increasing, Paula begins to realize there's something very wrong with Edendale. But as Kevin's script rushes toward production, she's also seeing parallels between the Edendale residents and the neighborhood's past, and she may be helpless to stop it. Or someone or something might try to stop her.
The story is not a bad one, but when put on film, it plays out like an episode of "The Twilight Zone" that runs 30 minutes too long. Too often I sat wondering where a scene was going, as the dialogue meandered to nowhereland. There were some underlying ideas introduced in these moments that were called back later, such as the look of Kevin's face when shaving, but they were so subtle that any effect was negligible.
Pacing really is at the heart of this film's problems, but atmosphere, acting and writing all take their bites out of the movie too. The looming dread comes in way too early, causing it to become oppressive. As they say, you can't have good without evil, and in this film, there's no real positivity, so the horror has no contrast to give it real impact. From the first introduction of the neighbors, the film rolls downhill into darkness, when it could have used some light to pump up the scares.
The writing and acting isn't top notch either, which never helps. It's nearly impossible to take Kevin's lines seriously, due to his delivery, which falls along the lines of a Jack Nicholson impersonation, while anyone who could believe that Rachel is a model is a master at suspending belief (though she looks great in a bikini.) They aren't done any favors by the script, which has some clunker lines and an ending that's unoriginal at best and disappointing at worst.
Now that I've bagged on this flick, let me lavish some praise upon it too. Of course, like The Matrix and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, this movie seems like it was really made to look at. Using consumer-grade Macs, director Stefan Avalos (The Blair Witch Project pre-cursor The Last Broadcast) and visual effects supervisor Scott Hale (The Stepford Wives) took bland digital-video footage and made a professional-looking movie with some genuinely scary special effects. The amount of computer work done on this film, and the process used, is astounding. Team these two guys up with a talented writer and cast, and you could have a low-budget masterpiece on your hands. Here, though, you have an experiment in digital filmmaking that succeeds on a visual level.
This DVD was produced by the film's director, and he's put together a disc that a DVD fan would make, loaded with features and the little touches that enthusiasts enjoy. The movie is presented in letterboxed widescreen, with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and Spanish, French and English subtitles. The menus are animated, with footage from the movie, and they set the mood for the film. Scene selections are available with stills from each scene listed. The keepcase is clear, and the scene index is printed on the inside of the cover.
The video looks to be 1.66:1, and is presented in letterboxed widescreen. The video is very dark, due to the subject matter, and varies in quality throughout the picture, with day scenes faring better than night scenes. Dark scenes with light backgrounds, especially scenes with windows at dusk, can disappear completely into noise and shadows. Such is digital video. The special effects look great though, and don't stand out due to the blending of digital video with digital effects.
The audio, a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, is good, if a bit flat. When indoors, the dialogue has an echo to it, while there is one scene where a telephone nearly knocked me out of my seat. I don't know if it was one purpose, but it was the loudest ring I've ever heard. The music isn't bad, and is mixed well under dialogue, when it is mixed, as most of the time, there are no audio beds. There are some audio effects to increase the tension, and they work well. I didn't notice much use of the surround fields, but the film is very dialogue heavy.
Avalos put a nice selection of extras on this DVD, and they are better than your usual EPK-ish bonus features. Two audio commentaries, available from the set-up menu, kick things off, with one from Avalos and his producer/girlfriend Marianne Conner, and the other a music-only track with commentary by composer Vincent Gillioz. Avalos and Conner work well together to keep the chat going, and they have plenty to talk about, as the story is based on their move to California and is shot in their home. There's a lot of tech talk and background on how they pulled the movie off on a low budget. It's a very informative track, and one that will be of interest to DV filmmakers.
Gillioz' track (which has an off-mic interviewer, possibly Avalos) is less interesting, as there's tons of dead air between the music tracks, and he doesn't seem to have much to say about his work. Considering how important music is to creating atmosphere in horror films, its a bit disappointing to not hear more from him.
A trio of featurettes is up next, including one that is fantastic, both in terms of concept and execution. "The Remaking of a Scene" uses a shot of the script laid over raw footage, with narration from Avalos to show how a scene was originally written. Then he explains the scene's problems, and shows how it changed, using in-process footage, rehearsals and special effects prep work. Illustrating the step-by-step process this way is very enlightening, and shows the effort than went into making this movie. The remaining pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, one on the production and one on the special effects, give a further look at how the movie came together. Together, these three featurettes are more in-depth than the majority of the special features on mainstream DVDs.
Seven deleted/extended scenes are available to check out, with or without director's commentary. A play-all option lets you check out all seven scenes at once. One scene includes a character that was completely cut from the movie, but the rest were removed mainly for pacing issues. The commentary talks about a couple of indie filmmaking issues, so they are worth checking out. A quick flip through Hale's sketchbook and the film's trailer wrap things up, though there are at least two easter eggs available. (Check DVDTalk's Easter Egg database for more info.)
The Bottom Line
You have to admire the effort and the technical know-how that went into The Ghosts of Edendale, but the pacing, acting and writing drag this movie down tremendously. Thanks to the work of the director, though, this DVD is packed and can provide plenty of info for aspiring DV filmmakers. Horror fans might want to give this disc a look, but casual viewers can keep moving. The low price makes it an easy buy for anyone with a DV cam and a dream. A for effort, C for product.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.