Monday, October 31, 2011

DVD Reviews: Unexplained Explained and Haunted Changi

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

The reason for these two films to be reviewed in this blog together is that they both purport to be about the making of a documentary regarding ghosts.

Unexplained Explained: Ghostly Paranormal Actvity
Directed by Nick Padley and Nigel Albermaniche
World Wide Multi Media, 2011
75 minutes, USD $19.95

Presented as a British television shot-on-video documentary, producer Paul Wookey (of the Brit program[me] Quizworld) teems up with professional psychic Diane Howe (who has appeared on some shows like Psychic Interactive. She’s there as the ghost “attractor,” as you well, like the main characters from Medium or Ghost Whisperer.

They set off into the bucolic U.K. countryside to the town of Pendle, in Yorkshire Dales. There they reach their destination, an old pub called The Anchor, which is supposedly haunted by multiple spirits.

I’m not sure if the owners of the pub are looking to this as a serious documentary about the spirit world or as a chance to get some free publicity (or both), but they appear to be in earnest as the camera follows everyone as they walk through the darker places in the place, such as a cellar that’s partially filled with water, or another room filled with tipped-over casks of booze (that seem to be quite old). “Oh, I have an odd feeling about this room!” someone says once in a while. As with most psychic readings, which drives me crazy (this includes you, Sylvia Brown – who is not on this DVD), there is no way to prove what they are saying, and no indication of research to verify readings. When she (or any psychic) describes a spirit, it could be an albino dwarf with three heads, but there is no way to substantiate it. I’m not saying people do not have the gift, but I’d like to see some confirmation before I go “wow! S/he nailed it!”

A centerpiece of the DVD is a sort of Ouija board set-up with a group sitting around an upside down glass which they all touch with a finger, and the glass goes round and round and round. I’d have been more impressed if the glass shattered (but not to the point where anyone is hurt, of course) or moved on its own, rather than just when touched. Too easily faked.

Usually, by this time I’d be getting the willies (yes, I have a touch of phasmaaphobia in real life, since I have had at least one pretty-sure experience), but not even a hair on the scruff of me neck raised. The pace is glacial, and the events are minimal. The camera is always in tight so you can’t see much of the surroundings, which also raises suspicions to me of being contrived through ocular claustrophobia, but that doesn’t ring true either.

Truthfully, part of the issue for me is everyone has somewhat thick accents (especially Howe, who mumbles often), and there is a throbbing dissonant musical tone that is played over the readings, making it even harder to understand what Howe is saying about whatever it is she is “reading” of the psychic world. A choice of turning on captions would have been a nice addition.

The revelations about one or more of the spirits during the séance is creepy to say the least, and at the end of the program, there are written updates title cards that don’t really say anything substantial (asking around if someone knows something about the events that allegedly happened between a 50 year period over a hundred years before. Good luck with that. One of the cards even goes to state, “Opinions are divided regarding the plausibility of their findings.” Well, if even the show can’t stand by their own work, why should the viewer?

Usually, I like stuff like this, but this particular exercise left me kinda cold, and not the fun, unexplained-icy-spot-in-the-corner kind. Lastly, note that this is a DVR, with no extras whatsoever. In all, I found it a bit disappointing. The DVD box images are scarier than this film, quite honestly.

Haunted Changi
Directed by Tony Kern
Mythopolis Pictures / Seminal Films, 2010
81 minutes, USD $14.95
The premise of this film is clearly stated on the box: In January 2010, a group of filmmakers began exploring old Changi Hospital in Singapore…with terrifying and tragic results. The film contains the crew’s original footage.

Apparently, The Blair Witch Project did more than scare most people, it created a whole new industry of the “found footage” films industry, spurring the likes of Cloverfield and [Rec] (though, to be fair, this style did exist before, with films like the classic 1980 Cannibal Holocaust).

So, supposedly, This group of four (well, actually five, but one of the women is not listed in any credits) decides to go check out Old Changi (pronounced Chang-ee) Hospital, a real place that is now abandoned and graffiti-riddled, but after the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, was locally known as a location for numerous Japanese beheadings (hence the DVD cover image) of prisoners and intellectuals that was said to be in the five figures. This led OCH being rumored to be highly haunted.

We watch as they prepare to set out to the hospital on an official permission of two days (one daylight, one evening), though they apparently are there more often than that. We watch early on as they prepare the credits to their “film,” which sets up the expository story about the Japanese invasion at the beginning of Dubya-Dubya Deuce, using film footage from an early U.S. television documentary. We also see what is probably real person-on-the-street footage of people discussing their own opinions and experiences dealing with hauntings at Old Changi. Nice mix-up of real and…maybe…

The film is obviously filmed in Singapore, but is mostly filmed in English, with some occasional Chinese thrown in; however, thanks to the heavy accents and colloquialisms, as you can hear in the trailer below, I found it easier with the captions turned on.

I will admit that this is one creepy film for the most part. I kept expecting, as one might, that at any second something was going to jump out into the camera range, like those ferstunkiner videos that get RE’d and FWD’d around on emails where they show some peaceful, idyllic scene, and at the end, something jumps out and screams (gets me every time, dammit!). But, of course, the real joy is of anticipation, much like never actually seeing the Blair Witch. There is an occasional glimpse of something that if you turn away for a second you can miss. I know I slo-mo’d the rewind more than once to make sure I saw that I thought I saw. That’s a good sign.

Yeah, as you’re walking along the real hallways of OCH seeing only what the camera is seeing in “real time” (and the occasional look back in an editing bay), this film is very effective in the creepy mode. I know I was squirming more than once thinking, “Okay, when are they gonna go boo?!?!” The two-thirds are especially creepy in that way, though a run through the sub-basement corridors of the hospital in the dark toward the end was claustrophobic at best, expectant at its worst (meaning most scary). Yes, there are a couple of really good shocks and a creepy playback that are especially effective. The viewer definitely wants to be paying attention, despite the use of more anticipation than actual scare. Plus, the use of night-vision green is very effectively used here.

Amusingly, on the IMDB, there are two versions listed of the same film, the first as a fiction, and the second as a documentary with the names of the cast changed ever-so-slightly from their real ones to their characters..

There are five people who are the focus of the film, though one woman is not mentioned in either listing. Curious. Perhaps she’s the real ghost? Anyway, the film is listed on one as being directed by Andrew Lau (played by Andrew Lua; see how that works?). He’s the hardest to understand among the filmmakers, and has the most dialog. Go figure. The sound guy is Farid Azlam (Faridino Assalam), who is seen more in the first half. The photographer is Audi Khalis (Audi Khalid), and the producer (and most convincing actor) is Sheena Chung (Sheena Chan). It feels like much of the dialog is spontaneous which either means it’s better acted than I realize, or they are good at improv.

There are a couple of tweaking points that make me ponder… First and foremost, although they don’t show much of the supernatural world, it still felt like a bit much. I won’t go into detail and ruin it, but note that this question may be a spoiler, so skip ahead: why is one of the ghosts a Japanese soldier. I thought the whole point was that the Japanese killed locals, Chinese, and British (who were defending the island), so shouldn’t the ghosts be primarily them?

There are some inspired extras here. First, there is the full 20 minute or so documentary about the fall of Singapore from which the clips at the beginning of the film are taken. There is also a BlogSpot page for the “crew” which is hard to read (it’s also available on the film’s website), and three chapters of a book by one of the crew (not well written).

Anyway, this is a pretty effective film and can get real creepy at times. Don’t watch it before bedtime.

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