THE GHOSTS OF JOHNSON WOODS (2015)

 Posted by on January 29, 2017  Drama, HCF Reviews
Jan 292017
 

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , ,

UK Release Date: TBC

Stories about the film making process can often being a lot of fun, with the kind of behind the scenes angst and ego clashing moments making for some entertaining drama. An insight into the world of shoe string budgets and production problems can be fascinating to see played out, whether it’s the actual writing and filming process or the struggle to get a finished movie seen. However this all depends on having people involved who have been through this sort of process and understand the language of cinema, as well as the stresses involved in the fighting the creative constraints of the industry. Instead what we have here is a story about people who don’t know what they’re doing made by film makers who are just as clueless.

Lenny wants to famous. It’s not about the money he says, he just wants the glory. Unfortunately his ideas of making this happen involve making short animations using still photography on his phone, creating a few seconds of crude stop motion at a time. While it’s not my place to criticize what people do with their time, surely he must be aware that this isn’t going to become a reality. Living in his dad’s basement he doesn’t seem to be doing anything else in life, besides sitting around shirtless eating cereal and playing around with a deck of cards. These kind of padded out scenes are a warning sign early on that this isn’t going to be a great example of dramatic storytelling.

A local school girl called Heather notices Lenny’s hobby as she walks past his garden, and she seems convinced that his real strengths lie in making a feature length movie. Of course this is going to be a horror story, filmed in the nearby woods with just the two of them and no script ahead of time. For whatever reasons she also thinks they can become famous. Like so many other penniless film makers they soon set out to make the next Blair Witch Project, without any research into how this should be done.

The idea that this is supposed to be a comedy of some kind crossed my mind more than once. Perhaps the jabs at low rent horror films are intended as some kind of commentary on the VOD market? They do talk about how audiences are dumb, and how low budget films are meant to be made without a script and without actors. But if if this is the case their attempts at humour and making the story feel self aware are pretty awkward at best and it falls flat. You can’t really joke about this sort of thing when the production at hand is just as awful if not worse than many releases out there.

It doesn’t help that this looks and sounds like a YouTube video that was thrown together haphazardly, particularly the indoor scenes. It’s complete with poorly recorded sound and weird continuity problems. There are fuzzy shots in which the focus levels change, shaky camera zooms and only the most basic use of a musical score. The robotic acting and banal filler dialogue really doesn’t help either unless you want a few unintentional laughs. There also are some odd choices in the script as the characters make bizarre chit chat about takeaway food. Some of the locations are just as strange with Lenny’s bedroom looking like an actual basement without any furnishings beside a rug to sleep on and a wood saw laying against a wall covered with white plastic. I waited for an explanation but nothing ever comes along, I guess it’s just an attempt to make things sinister.

The rest of the story meanders just as much with attempts at melodrama consisting of discussions about Lenny’s divorced parents and Heather’s ideas for their hit movie. They spend a lot of time sitting around bickering without any attempts at characterisation. It’s never convincing that they would actually want to spend time with one another, and the brief moments of dialogue about why Lenny hasn’t made any romantic moves on her comes across as stiff and half hearted. Other bizarre subplots involving Heather trying to get his father to believe he might be gay as a result of this are even stranger, and Lenny’s secret dance choreography project being hinted slowly as things progress just adds to this. It’s never funny or sad enough to give the proceedings any sense of personality.

Suggesting this is a horror story, or a story about horror films would be untrue. The plot about their attempts to actually make the titular ghost story is never given enough time or focus. With some actual charm and even the slightest bit of research into how films are produced it could have been turned around, but there’s just not enough detail or humanity to make anything here work. A mild attempt at throwing in some real drama is inevitably included during the last few minutes but like the rest of the material it feels out of place. None of the pieces fit together. You could create any number of genuine scenes from the ideas about Lenny being unsuitable for a typical lead role or Heather’s vapid interest with being seen on magazine covers. Troubled youths setting aside their differences and coming together as creative minds? Now there’s an idea for a charming underdog story. You’ll just have to find it elsewhere.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Mocata

MocataA sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, foreign cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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