Reviewbr> "Never seek out entities on your own" - Steve Lynch
Phillip Muirhouse is working on a documentary that will be published on DVD and included in his latest ghost hunting book The Dead Country. He has two more days of onsite shotting to complete at Australia's most haunted site the Monte Cristo Homestead. Unfortunately a lot of Phillip's team are still to arrive back from Western Australia where they have been working on other parts of the documentary and he finds he'll be alone at the Homestead for ninety odd minutes after dark. Naturally he is slightly on edge at this development but the show must go on.
Arriving at the house Phillip waves the current owner goodbye and settles in with the equipment as night begins to fall. He decides to do a walk through, as required by the documentary, and gives the viewer a guided tour of the supernatural hotspots in the main building. Then strange things start to happen, there are footsteps, loud bangs, and the lights go out. Phillip is about to learn that Monte Cristo is a live cell with a vicious temperament. Will help arrive, will Phillip get out of Dodge, or will there be another notch on the site's balcony rail?
Guess the last found footage style movie I watched from Downunder was the excellent Lake Mungo, though to be fair that movie works more as a mockumentary. There hasn't been a lot of found footage made in this part of the World as our film makers tend to either follow traditional movie making techniques or have opted for one of the myriad web delivery concepts. Actually thinking about it The Tunnel would be the only other found footage I am aware of to be made in Australia. Director/Writer Tanzeal Rahim is clearly happy with his approach to Muirhouse and I was happy enough to sit down to a flick that went haunted house on me without the title including the words "paranormal" and "activity". So how did a local Director stack up against the big boys in Hollywood?
Firstly Rahim isn't doing things in half measure; he rolls his movie in supposedly Australia's most haunted location, Monte Cristo. On the excellent DVD release by Monster Pictures there's even a documentary on the house, though I'm wondering if I'm being Blair Witched with this to be honest. Currently sans net so no chance to verify the claims being made. Needless to say there are a number of sites claiming to be "Australia's Most Haunted" so I'll take it with a grain of salt thank you very much. On the bright side if the house used in the movie isn't haunted then it should be, it looks old, spooky, and has an air of a bye gone era permeating it. The general atmosphere is probably not helped by all the colonial furnishings cluttering up the rooms and wide hallways. Director Rahim has his atmosphere on and starts working on the viewer as soon as Phillip enters the homestead's main building. I'm going to go out on a limb here and state this movie could only have been shot using the found footage format, you need that authentic feel to things.
Director Rahim kicks off his movie in fairly startling fashion, I was hooked as soon as the frames started rolling. The viewer is onboard a police patrol car cruising the rain drenched streets of Junee, the view being from CCTV camera looking out the front windscreen. Notably the date and time are in frame, which is import in the context of the overall movie. Just outside the town limits the patrol car pulls over to move another motorist along and a police officer is confronted by some shirtless dude who is covered in blood and is wielding a vicious looking hammer. We later learn our local Thor is Phillip Muirhouse and it's the day after he spent a night in Monte Cristo. Effective prologue that shows the aftermath of the paranormal investigation, the rest of the movie is then cobbled together footage explaining how we came to be on a country road outside Junee. I was hooked immediately and was fairly bouncing in my seat with excitment as the rest of the movie unfolded.
Okay first issue with the movie, if you don't like slow burns then you are going to be in real trouble with Muirhouse. Director Rahim takes time out to setup the visit to Monte Cristo, in particular including a couple of interviews with ghost hunters where the ground rules for dealing with incarnate entities is laid down. Naturally Phillip Muirhouse will proceed to break those rules, hence the increasing paranormal phenomena in the second half of the movie. Just letting you know that if you want to get stuck into the action then you are going to have to wait fiddling your thumbs. We do get a couple of EVP (electronic voice phenomena) recordings, but someone should have pointed out to the Director that watching tapes playing isn't exactly scintillating viewing at the best of times.
Included in the preamble is an investigation conducting at the Junee cemetary, to be honest this was both distracting and not exactly helping the authenticity the Director was trying to achieve. There were some clear distortions in the still images shown, the sort of thing you get with reflections and unexpected light sources, and a bunch of mist that has a logical explanation - all about rotting bodies and gases folks. Anyways I'm not here to dispute ghost hunter evidence, the sequence simply didn't work for me and dare I say it, oh what the hell, struck me as simply padding.
When the second half of Muirhouse gets under way however things are rocking, and it gets pretty chilling as the limited light sources play havoc with your imagination. Director Rahim subscribes to the minimum scare tactics school of thought and uses noises etc to allow the viewer to scare themselves rather than playing on CGI and loud music tactics to warn the audience that something scary is coming up. Like Lake Mungo the scare tactics are measured and used in escalating fashion to tighten the screws. Muirhouse is at its best when Phillip is investigating ghostly footsteps and loud bangs on various walls. Though I have to say that the ghosts in Monte Cristo sure did enjoy Poltergeist judging from the dining room scene!
The Director is going to sneak up on you and go boo. Note throughout the second half of the movie Phillip is never to the center of the scene, the focus isn't so much on the character as on the location he current is in. Veterans of movies like Paranormal Activity will of course be glued to their screens waiting for a supernatural attack to occur from the frame edge. Simple but effect dark genre technique that has it's origins in moveis like John Carpenter's Halloween.
I wanted to mention one aspect of Muirhouse that worked like a brought one. You know how you watch one of those yanks found footage flicks and are left wondering why the characters are constantly filming and why they don't get out of Dodge ASAP as the brown stuff hits the wind turbine? Problem doesn't exist with Muirhouse, they are filming a documentary ergo why cameras positioned throughout the house and why Phillip is carrying a handheld. Equally when it gets real scary Phillip is out the front door quicker than a Bogan can sprint down to a pub offering half price beer. In one of those plot elements that is either Biblical in nature or not, Phillip looks back and keeps getting dragged back to the house, figuratively, to confront whatever entities are partying like it's 1899.
For those after T&A or gore, bad luck folks you aren't going to get any in this movie.
A few other observations, running out of room, and then we'll wrap it up. Ghosts love to play prankster with the electricity mains switch. The number of people who have died violent deaths at Monte Cristo increases the longer the movie runs, including the pregnant maid and the retarded boy. Who were the two people murdered in the house post Phillip being put into the closet? It's never stated, I assume it's his crew but that's left a little on the undisclosed side of the equation. Great opening scene, set the tone for what we are going to be sitting through during the second half of the movie. Iain PF McDonald (Phillip Muirhouse) is a strong enough actor to carry the movie on his shoulders, which he is forced to do for the majority of the movie's running time.
I've been waiting to see Muirhouse ever since the movie was announced, and was not disappointed. I expected a good chilly ghost story and I got exactly that with fine attention to the details of the location and good scare tactics. If like me you dig a good haunted house yarn then this is the movie for you, it hits the spot and throws on a tension laced scary atmosphere, just be warned however it seems to take an eternity to get to the good stuff. Got to say there's a bit of padding in the first half that should have been edited out. Anyways full recommendation folks, I had a good time with this flick, would suggest watching it in the dark with a clean pair of undies at hand.