A strange island inheritance, a troubled psychic looking for peace, and an amoral web journalist looking for a story… these may not be the most conventional ideas to throw together. However director, writer and lead actor J. Van Auken has decided to mix up the usual mystery and crime elements by having a death in a wealthy estate be looked into by someone who sees dead people. Is he just a money grabbing fraudster taking advantage those in grief, or is he really a drug addled mess, looking for solace after the death of his wife? Is the supernatural real? What are these sinister family members really after? And do all these plot strands come together to form a cohesive narrative?
John Dunning (Van Auken) is not in a particularly good state of mind. He’s been seeing the dead for as long as he can remember, costing him a chance at a normal working life. To make things worse a ferry disaster drowned his wife and all the kids she was teaching, but he isn’t able to see her. He makes a living visiting mortuaries where he helps give some peace of mind to the bereaved by describing what he sees of their ghostly loved ones. However it’s never clear what service he’s really offering, since he avoids mentioning anything beyond vague descriptions. They can’t see or hear him to provide any kind of final message to their families. He also kind of skips over the way the apparitions all seem to be confused, or in pain.
Meanwhile a disgruntled writer Valerie (Mindy Rae) has become tired of writing clickbait articles and lists instead of actual news, and tracks him down to see if she can get a real story. She seems to think that investigating the life of a paranormal psychic will the ticket back to real journalism she’s looking for. After coming along to see him do his thing, they become entangled in the affairs of the Bellvue estate. As it turns out this is good timing as the head of the family, the late Mrs. Bellvue, was a frequent client of John in the past. She’s seen it fit to give her old acquaintance ownership of a valuable island, much to the disdain of her relatives. However John isn’t going to give it up so easily, seeing it as a place devoid of deaths and a way to avoid seeing spirits every day.
What follows is a kind of detective plot in which family elder Carmine (Greg Lucey) promises to let John have his isolation if he can retain rights to the island resources. However the price is that he must discover how his mentally ill son died. At this stage it would have just been easier for him to get out, and take compensation for the island – but conveniently it’s close to the ferry disaster and John is not so worried about becoming wealthy. With Valerie along for the ride they set out to uncover what seems to be a mystery involving family secrets and strange machine designs hidden in desert hideaways.
The cast do a fair job, and everyone involved fits their roles – particularly J. Van Auken who is suitably haunted during scenes where he has to look into recent deaths. Mindy Rae is suitably callous as a reporter looking for page views at any cost. However they’re never a likeable pair, which is a feeling that permeates the story. It’s a fairly grey and cold looking feature, which continues this overall tone. However elsewhere the technical side of things needs a little more attention, whether it’s the shifting background noise during dialogue or the abrupt choices in music editing. There are way too many dry, expository conversations in cars. In terms of an actual score it’s pretty sparse, and a little more care would have gone a long way. However as dead headlight bulbs in the vehicles being used suggests, this wasn’t a big priority.
Unfortunately it’s left for the storyline to carry the film, and about half way through things start to unravel. The clues to how Carmine’s son died lead the central pair to Radon gas flooded hospital floors and secret passages under grave stones. Maybe John was really in need of more medication this whole time, as things begin to get a little silly. He’s dumped into lime filled pits, hit with stun guns, and has Mrs. Bellvue’s ashes thrown on him; the guy really can’t catch a break. Maybe would all work as a dark comedy about an out of work psychic who gets in over his head. It might be forgivable if all the big plot twists and reveals progressed in a satisfying way, but a lot of details are skimmed over or are introduced too late to be properly developed. Ultimately as a ghost story, a supernatural mystery or as a crime thriller, the structure and the writing aren’t strong enough to make it all work as a whole.