Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Spookt (2023)

FrightFest review – Spookt (2023)

There’s a Greenville in every state of the Union, apparently.  In the Greenville in Pennsylvania, locals shun a house which was once occupied by Dr Byler (Eric Roberts), a mad surgeon who was incidentally involved in the locals’ bigwig sex cult.  Among the stories about the Byler Place in circulation is that Flora (Quinn Reames), daughter of wayward Mom Anne (Erin Brown, who was in about a thousand softcore flicks around the Millennium under the name ‘Misty Mundae), has gone missing after being dared by her idiot friends to explore the spooky old property.

Now, two contrasting women investigate – Rachel (Christen Sharice), a confident out-of-town sceptic and debunker who believes it’s all rattling pipes and local gossip got out of hand, and believer Claire (Haley Leary), a local who is open to a supernatural explanation but also more sensitive to the feelings of living people.  Rachel needles Claire by calling her ‘Claire Voyant’ but eventually almost starts to respect her intelligence and courage.  Of course, weird shit is piling up – a creepy faceless doll resists Rachel’s attempts to throw it away, the crawlspace under the house leads to a mad laboratory which establishes the late Dr B was possibly inspired by Dr Freudstein from The House By the Cemetery and raises the possibility that mad science rather than paranormality is behind the horrors of the house.

Directed by Tony Reames and scripted by Torey Haas, Spookt is an admirably concise picture – we’ve seen a lot of paranormal bloggers/debunkers get their comeuppance lately, but this gives equal time to the sceptic and the believer without overly indulging either.  It’s never explicitly raised, but the fact that Rachel is black in an all-white, possibly conservative town – even their local scandal is a QAnon friendly abuse cult (Brown gets a funny line about her involvement in it) – might explain why she gets such a frosty reception, though she’s been called in by the home’s current woner Mr Machen (Keith Brooks) – note the ghost story namechecks in the character names – to sort things out so he can sell it off.  Machen wears his dead wife’s frocks and turns out to be a different stripe of maniac – this is the first film in recent memory where quitting the haunted house is a tricky proposition not because of timewarping or supernatural forces but because the lunatic owner is outside with a shotgun wanting to silence witnesses who know his other dreadful secret (he also has a nasty man’s rights speech about his marriage).

It’s mostly a rattling spook ride, but Leary and Sharice get to flesh out interesting, unconventional characters.  And that non-Amish doll is creepy.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.


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