Writer-director Mel House has been working under the radar for quite some time – in 2008, he made the thirteenth (!) entry in that oddest fluke of genre franchises, the Witchcraft series. Mystery Spot reprises some of the themes of his 2010 film Psychic Experiment. It’s a slow-burn (perhaps too slow in its first half) which introduces a small group of characters in an out-of-the-way location – a motel by a ‘mystery spot’ attraction which has mostly burned down, though rumours linger that it’s a place where the laws of nature are bent – as if they were puzzle pieces, then takes a while to observe them going about their enigmatic business before sketching in the web of weirdness that binds them together.
Motelier Mel (Lyle Kanouse) is at once sinister and folksy, with the urn containing the ashes of his dead husband on a shelf in his office, and knows more than he’s saying. Rachel (Lisa Wilcox, from a couple of Elm Street sequels – House often likes to cast from the sort of folks who turn up at film fan conventions), a widowed writer, checks in with a bag full of cash and a camera and seems to be beginning a project. Nathan (Graham Skipper, director of Sequence Break, a busy actor in indie horrors like Dementia Part II and Bliss), a frustrated filmmaker, records a series of auditions with actor hopefuls at the behest of mysterious backers, and is sometimes visited by the ghost of his daughter – though the little girl isn’t actually dead, just living with her mother, who’s divorcing him. Cop Leon (Bobby Simpson II) – who might be an ex-cop – sits in a messy car, making notes on those who come and go, hung up on a dead partner, a cold case and a general sense of injustice. And, in the morning after spectres appear, piles of ash are left on bedspreads or the floor.
The characters circle around each other, having off-kilter conversations, and Leon’s off-site partner (Debbie Rochon) phones in odd bits of information that make us question what characters have told each other. It all revolves around the ruins of the mystery spot and the apparitions that seem designed to lure people here. It gets a bit repetitive and is sometimes too elusive for its own good, but the performances are good, especially from Wilcox (a mature, interesting lead) and Skipper, and it has a beguiling sense of eeriness. But note the title – this gives you much more mystery than explanation: even if most of the pieces can be fit together, a lot of the picture is left blank.