Despite the Harry Potter-ish brand name (and opening title font), "Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour" isn't based on a literary phenomenon, but merely the low-budget filmmaking aspirations of the Comrie family. Either flush with cash or in possession of incriminating photographs of a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment executive, somehow this family pushed their mild tween mystery into a national DVD release, despite making a picture almost completely devoid of professional polish.
Sarah Landon (Rissa Walters) is off on a weekend trip driving up to the country to see an old friend's grandmother, only to be sidelined with car troubles. Stuck in the small town of Pine Valley for longer than she anticipated, Sarah reunites with an old playmate, Matt (Dan Comrie), while discovering a murderous curse placed long ago on his brother David (Brian Comrie) is about to become a chilling reality. Between ghosts, a psychic, and clues leading to horrible conclusions, it's up to Sarah and Matt to figure out how to save David and restore some peace to Pine Valley.
Written by John Comrie and directed by Lisa Comrie, "Landon" is a more sluggish "Nancy Drew" or a watered down episode of "Goosebumps." It's a lukewarm pass at all-ages terror for the Halloween season and it has a sweet homemade feel to it that doesn't come around very often in the industry. However, that fresh apple pie appeal only takes the movie so far.
To be blunt, "Landon" is a cheap-looking film, shot on fuzzy DV equipment with a cast of nonprofessionals who spend most of the picture reminding the viewer of this cringing fact. It's a roughly made feature looking to summon an air of mystery and PG-rated gloom, but just doesn't have the experienced execution films of this nature need to connect with a mass audience. Lisa Comrie has a nice touch with woodsy outdoors and the teen wonderment of the title character, but once the paranormal stuff starts to hit the screen, the film begins to resemble a stiff, amateurish YouTube video.
One element that stands out about "Landon" is young Walters, who is certainly inexperienced when it comes to screen emoting, but carries herself with a lovely poise. I can't express loud enough how wonderful it was to watch an adolescent character allowed an age-appropriate awkwardness and body image, eschewing the coke whore aesthetics of teen cinema competition to promote a character of relatable charm and kindly social graces.
As mentioned earlier, the visual quality of the picture isn't outstanding, but the anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) image is good about boosting the colors, keeping lackluster visual distractions at bay. Black levels are weak, with smearing in great quantity.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is superb with spooky atmospherics, with a major effort to make the listening experience gripping in ways the visuals could never match. The rest of the mix is satisfying, offering a clean track to pick apart the horrible performances further.
English and French subtitles are provided.
"Frida's Psychic Readings Game" is a Magic 8-Ball experience that prompts the viewer to ask a supporting character from the film questions of the future. It's goofy, but holds entertainment value.
A Trailer for the film has not been provided, only peeks at "CJ7" and "Taking 5."
Soon "Landon" is crawling with ghosts, shotgun-toting grandmothers, and unfortunate sequences where the Comrie boys are encouraged to "act." This is a not an offensively bad picture, but to hand it a corporate DVD release is perhaps aiming a smidge higher than the Comries can artistically handle. I'm sure they'll do much better with a promised sequel.
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