Before a disused prison farm for troubled boys can be sold off for development, the place must be searched for the body of a long-missing inmate – because Nancy Heart (Marty Stonerock), the boy’s sister, has gone to court to halt the project until it’s confirmed that he’s either dead and buried on the property rather than escaped and run off to a new life elsewhere. One of the neatest aspects of this creepy little film is that Nancy, who we don’t meant until late in the day, wants closure – but not the type we expect. Though that then raises other issues which sort of derail the project.
The official (Randy Molnar) with responsibility to get this hitch smoothed out hires the team of archaeologist Patrick Connor (William Haze) and his forensic specialist wife Karen (Alice Rietveld) to go over the property but won’t pay for the support team the Connors are used to. In what ought to be a no-no even for a horror film, the couple bring their sulky, medicated daughter Emma (Sarah Sculco) along to the desolate, depressing facility. Even without the likelihood of ghostly activity or a lurking psycho-killer, it would seem unwise to take a teenager who has only recently come out of a spell of suicidal self-harm to such a spooky, depressing place. The opening ‘based on a true story’ caption suggests a mystery about historical child abuse, but that aspect of the film – and the discovery that there are a lot more than one unexplained corpses on the site – is skipped over in favour of a ghost story in which Emma comes under the influence of a presence who might be the missing boy and the family breaks apart under pressure of supernatural influences. Some manifestations are overfamiliar – messages scratched on skin by invisible nails – but there are a few more imaginative touches, mostly to do with the prevalence of earth and bone that the Connors are accustomed to in their professions but unready for when they refuse to lie there to be examined and start fighting back against the trowel-wielders.
Written and directed by Scott Poiley – producer/writer on Anthony DiBlasi’s Cassadaga, Missionary and Last Shift – Exhume is nicely-characterised (the unhappy family feel real) and has its effective creepy moments, but doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The mystery unfolds effectively for the audience – and the main characters – but only because information which ought to be common knowledge to all the locals (and to anyone who even did an internet search before accepting an ominous gig like digging up the cursed earth) is artificially withheld so there cab be shock reveals later on. It’s usually admirable when a horror film ventures into dangerous territory by tackling entrenched beliefs – but this comes perilously close to being a pro-child abuse movie, though that’s just a side-effect of wanting to up the horrific stakes in the last act. On a scene by scene basis, this works though – with good use of gospel choirs to signify spirituality and oppression, some very nice one- or two-scene character acting (Molnar, in particular, adds a lot in a very brief appearance), good ghost/possession scares and a bleak setting.