Ghost TV (2012)

Sex :
Violence :
Director Phil Davison Reviewer :
Writers Phil Davison
Starring Melissa Hobbs, Harley Neville, Dell McLeod, Adam Thompson, Leah Carrell
Genre Dark Comedy
Tagline A nasty, nasty, nasty comedy
15 second cap Wendy and her team want to film some paranormal activity, Clayton provides the means, then it all goes to hell


"Don't worry the moment has passed, everything is peaceful" - Clayton

With four programs under their belt the reality television show "Ghost TV" is in trouble, the Studio wanting something a little more mainstream, and perhaps slightly more exciting. Producer Wendy tries for an X-File slant with front man Sam filling in for Fox and his partner in crime Kate doing the Dana thing. Neither of them is exactly excited about the prospect. Wendy has setup a shoot at Dunedin's notorious Seacliff Insane Asylum, derelict and abandoned for a number of decades. Adding some scientific kudos to the investigation are academic Clayton, who has a point to prove to his colleagues, and his assistant Margie. Wendy isn't the only one with an agenda as night descends on one of New Zealand's most haunted sites.

Naturally, this being a horror movie, not everything goes to plan, though of course Wendy and Clayton are more than excited by what begins to happen. There appears to be a presence in the old building, and it would seem to be focusing on Margie. We learn that Clayton has Margie along as she is an "attractant" for poltergeists, especially when she is off her meds. When Margie finds out Clayton is using her, all hell breaks loose as murder is added to the Seacliff agenda. Will Sam and Kate make it to morning, will Wendy get the footage she is after, will Clayton be around to publish an academic papar on the night?

One of the things that has me irritated by "found footage" is the constant use of cameras in the movies surprisingly. Yeah ironic, I'm complaining about too many cameras in movies! What I'm irritated by is characters constantly carrying around hand held or shoulder movie cams regardless of the situation. Under attack by a demonically possessed mad women, hell ensure you are capturing that on film rather than getting out of Dodge, noises in the night and people going missing, take time out to film an emo moment to camera rather than getting out of Dodge, the gates of hell opening at a late night gathering in the woods, ensure everything is being caught on film? You alll with me here, does anyone else think they would have ditched the camera and run like hell, with possibly a change of undies in their near future? What Director/Writer Phil Davison does with Ghost TV is effectively take camera love out of the equation, our potential list of victims are filming constantly because they are making a paranormal reality show, the fact that even the freaky stuff is being caught on camera is logical rather than leaving you wondering if the national sport in the U.S of A is to film people's lifes 24/7. There's that ring of crystal in Ghost TV that Stevie King was on about. In fact the tension is heightened in some scenes as Producer Wendy wants to go "lights out" in order to make better TV, it all works like a brought one, and I was nodding my head in approval.

The actual structure of the movie proves to be slightly confusing till you get onboard with the true nature of found footage. Wendy seems to be editing the movie as its being shot, hence why there appears to be a second camera in use in some shots. If a character is carrying the camera on screen they are shooting Ghost TV rushies, then who is filming that character? Okay taking it slow here, we're talking nuances and maybe reading slightly too much into the flick. At stages scene transactions are via what are clearly meant to be breaks for commercials, editing in other words to build the proposed episode. Equally we range from raw footage to some quite professional movie like scenes where Director Phil has clearly got his movie making on. It's like watching daily rushes for a movie under production, some of it is going to need some harsh editing, while other scenes are pretty much in the can, and some scenes have been finished and blocked off. What we have here is a television episode that is being polished and edited, interspersed with movie aesthetics. It's a nice blend, remembering Phil Davison isn't claiming "food footage released from Police archives" or any other bollocks. Veterans of found footage movies that apparently are being shown whole and unedited will appreciate Davison's approach, especially after viewing previous raw footage movies that come complete with soundtracks and multiple camera angles! In short you are seeing a movie in various stages of editing and completion, which all adds some pretty cool authentic touches to an atmospheric outing that is seeping into your sub conscious like the proverbal mist off the moors in a Hammer movie.

Phil Davison delivers the best "found footage" flick this Century, if you love the genre this is must see stuff folks

However Davison isn't content to simply make a Kiwi interpretation of Paranormal Activity, he decides to play around with the conventions in a subtle fashion that may go over the head of some viewers. If you are not one of those people who takes in dialogue then you are going to miss the inherent humour involved in Ghost TV. A character states they would insert scary music in a scene being filmed, queue the score to hit some scary notes, later a character opinions they should have silence during a particularly tense scene as the Audience won't know what to expect, queue silence, and just in case we are getting comfortable with this aspect of the movie Davison reverses what is apparently a recurrent theme with the soundtrack not doing what a character expects it will later in the movie. There's an interplay going down here that will have anyone who has edited a movie smiling at the sly wink to the Audience. I was certainly grinning while anticipating the next on screen editing advice to come from one or more characters.

Also working extremely well is Wendy's seeming inability to have her cameras rolling in the right place at the right time, or at least not setup correctly to capture the moments she is craving that might just see Ghost TV renewed. At one stage Sam is down in a basement area, with the lights doused under Wendy's instructions, and he is touched by something in the dark. Much to Wendy's shock, and rising Audience tension as the scene extends, the infrared option on the camera hasn't been turned on so nothing is actually caught on tape. In another example Wendy, Sam, and Clayton are in the van discussing the situation while all hell breaks loose in a room Kate and Margie are sharing. Wendy captures the action after the event, but does get Margie going tough with a stick! Clearly making a paranormal reality television show is harder than one might expect, even though the spooks are quite happy to make an appearance. Who you going call folks!

While there is a rich dark humour vein running throughout the movie, I haven't touch upon all aspects, Phil Davison doesn't stint on his dark genre requirement of trying to send that chill down the Audience's collective spine. Old decaying building with the sort of background that would have the Winchester Brothers salivating, Davison uses darkness and sound bites to ramp things up a bit. The Seacliff insane asylum, no attempt at the PC here - if easily offended go watch the latest House of Mouse cartoon, has witnessed sexual mutilations, an influenza epidemic that caused the deaths of 22 odd people, a fire that claimed another 34, and of course the ever popular lobotomy was a highlight of many a residents stay. If there is a quintessential "bad place" then Seacliff would be that place. Clayton, who seems as obsessed with the Asylum as Prof. Joyce Reardon was with Rose Red, opinions that Seacliff only needs the right attractant to get things rocking. Margie provides the accelerant and Davison is putting out fire with gasoline. Two thumbs up to the Kiwi Director here, rather than going Paranormal Activity melodramatic Davison lets the darkness do the work, drops in unexplained loud bangs and footsteps as required, and generally unnerves the Audiences by hinting at what might be there in the dark rather than showing some shoddy CGI effect. There are poltergeists about, but they only really focus on Margie with some devastating effects. Davison has more happening than simply ghostly manifestations, do you believe in possession? A recurrent theme in the Director/Writer's work is leaving interpretation up to the Audience, Margie may or may not become possessed - like Azaria in Davison's previous movie Belief, and this forms the crux of the second half of Ghost TV. We move from ghostly trappings to an almost J-Horror, circa Ring, aesthetic, with Margie providing the long dark haired antagonist. There's got to be a morning after, but during the night Seacliff provides a lot of dark hiding places for a revenge seeking Margie to explode out of. Hold onto your popcorn kids, you're in for a rollicking good time as things move from the ethereal to a more physical danger. Not surprisingly Seacliff maintains its dominance, with a lot of unexplained noises and the possibility of a shock coming at you from around every corner.

I should also mention there's a few nods to other classic horror movies embedded in Ghost TV. Something holds Margie's hand during a particularly harrowing night, which of course reminds of the trials and tribulations of Eleanor in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. There's that whole Ring thing going down as well. I'm always up for horror referencing during a movie, so was keeping an eye out for the "Easter eggs" in the movie.

Guess since I've left the word limit behind a few hundred words ago I have room to mention the underlying theme that permeates Ghost TV, for those taking time out of their busy schedule of hiding behind the sofa to groove to. It's all about the moral compass people have going down, and how that can be compromised in order for them to achieve their goals. Wendy wants' her show to be a success, she has no fallback position, so is prepared to film anything that might help the visuals along regardless of the impact this may have on other people. Her moral compass is spinning in its grave, to mix metaphors, as she shows the sort of ruthless determinism that could get her a gig on Fox News. Similarly Clayton is prepared to throw Margie to the paranormal wolves in order to prove his theories before the court of his University colleagues. This being horror, you know how things are going to turn out for both characters. Interestingly for me at least, Kate is the only one showing some moral fibre, while Sam is the wide eyed innocent in it all. There's probably a bit more to be taken from the movie, but I was grooving to loud bangs and room destruction, so was distracted slightly.

Behind the camera Phil Davison is once again demonstrating he knows what he is doing. One of the amusing things I find in reviews of "food footage" movies is attacks around how amateur the Actors are, hello that takes a freaking lot of hard work to achieve. As opposed to the more polished Studio style movies "found footage" requires actual believable reactions, that may go contrary to the teenage perception of how people might react to a situation they find themselves in. There's a ring of reality to Ghost TV that should have every true horror fan standing and applauding. While some "found footage" outings need to add a veneer of polish to garner an audience, looking at you Paranormal Activity franchise, the Director in Ghost TV throws the seemingly uncut rushes on the table mixed in with some "finished" scenes. Phil Davies has created perhaps the best of breed thus far this Century. For mine best use of darkness to try and terrify the Audience since Hitchcock tuned into the possibilities of darkened corridors and basements.

Before I forget watch for Mr Davison doing a Hitchcock again in this movie with a brief cameo, I kind of dig that with Directors, not sure why to be honest.

The Cast are delivering on the requirements, appearing perfectly natural and not "acting" as such. It's a narrow ledge they find themselves on given the requirements, but I was pretty happy with the results which appear raw and un-rehearsed. Perhaps the only issues people will have will be with Harley Neville's Sam, who delivers some lines in a sort of weird fashion, hello people Sam is an ex children's television presenter, under pressure he is reverting to his safe zone, and with Adam Thompson's Clayton, a character who remains aloof and pretty much unlikable throughout the movie, say hello to the classic example of a driven Academic. As stated I had this whole nodding my head in approval of the Cast thing going down.

For those who simply must have some T&A in their dark movies, sorry, but I think there's probably a copy of Penthouse magazine down the local corner store. Equally the gore just isn't happening, some blood and trauma, but certainly nothing to get the cinematic triage excited about.

Finally a Kiwi movie to review, though I think I might have gone a tad overboard in review length. Just between you, I, and the invisible entity moving your kitchen table currently Ghost TV deserved the attention. This is how a "found footage" movie should be shot, no post production shenanigans, straight to the point, and no unnecessary inserts simply to get the Audience jumping like Hollywood Producers think people do at Raves. Director/Writer Davison goes with an escalation of darkness and unexplained noises, touched bases with the supernatural, before leaving it to the Audience to determine the mental state of the main antagonist in the second half of the movie. To sum up Ghost TV takes a darkly humorous turn through the "found footage" genre and brings some much needed cred back to what has become simply a cheap way to shoot scary movies recently. The movie is a horror absurdist's wet dream, at one stage we have a sťance going down in the morgue of an abandoned Insane Asylum late at night, now that really shouldn't work but Phil Davison has it happening. Full recommendation to those reading who dig truly independent film, this is the movie you have been waiting all decade for. Best found footage movie since, well, best ever found footage movie full stop.

[Editor's Note: Oh don't worry about the review length, it's only three times the limit after all!]

To be honest I got a screener of the movie for review purposes, full of cool extra features as well, so am not quite sure where you can pick up a copy right at the moment. I would imagine the usual Kiwi movie haunts will carry the title in due course, see our links section, but in the interim have a hunt around Amazon etc to see what you might discover. About the only web presence I could discover was right here, Roza media which actually has a shop with Phil Davison' previous two movies available; both come recommended by this site friends and neighbours.

So what did I learn from Ghost TV? Never ever spend a night in an abandoned Insane Asylum that is shunned by locals!

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

  Rough around the edges, just the way we like out found footage outings.