Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Ghost Watcher' delivers big chills on small budget

GhostWatcher (2002)
Starring: Jillian Byrnes, Jennifer Servary, and Marianne Hayden
Director: David A. Cross
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Elizabeth Dean (Servary) makes a comfortable living from selling ghost detection devices of questionable utility and her supernaturally themed porn website, but when an emotionally disturbed young woman (Byrnes) who is being haunted by a real ghost approaches her for help, Elizabeth is drawn into an investigation of a real haunting.

"GhostWatcher" is a neat ghost movie that, despite being made on what is obviously a very low budget, it's more entertaining than many films with one hundred or perhaps even a thousand times the budget this was shot for. It's got a nice idea at its center--a phony ghost investigator gets drawn into a real haunting involving a particularly nasty ghost--and director David Cross and his cinematographer Dan Poole have a good eye for building suspense through visuals... there were a couple of scenes early in the movie that gave me Hitchcock flashbacks. If the editing had been a bit tighter, there could even have been some moments that might have rivaled his films for tensions and terror.

The script could have used more work (there are more examples of bad dialogue than good, and there are logic fallacies that strain even the most generous-minded viewer's ability to suspend disbelief), the acting is inconsistent (Byrnes and Servary are excellent in some scenes but awful in others... although this may arise from weaknesses of the script, as actors are often only as good as the material they have to work with), and the film ends in a confused mess of badly motivated character actions that are founded in the dictates of plot instead of character and good story telling.

I believe that if Cross had taken it through a draft or two more, he would have realized that Elizabeth Dean behaves in an utterly unrealistic fashion during the second half of the movie, even if we allow for the possibility that Cross was shooting for some sort of extreme version of a "hooker with a heart of gold" idea for her character. (I can't go into detail about how Elizabeth's behavior is unrealistic without spoiling several of the films major plot-twists, but this already neat character could have been so much more impressive if only she had been better developed.

With a more polished script, slightly tighter editing in a number of scenes, this film would have been very impressive. I'm going to have to seek out a copy of "Ghost Watcher II", because if Cross learned anything from this first film, I'm certain the sequel is superior.

(At the very least, he'll probably have a zombie that looks a little less like a member of the Blue Man Group down on his luck. That make-up added much unintended hilarity to what otherwise was one of the film's creepiest and most effective sequences.)