THE GHOSTS OF JOHNSON WOODS (2015)

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Stories about film-making can often being a lot of fun, with the expected behind the scenes angst and ego clashes resulting in some entertaining drama. An insight into the world of shoe string budgets and production problems can be fascinating to see play out, whether it’s the actual production 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 thing and understand the language of cinema. Artists who understand the stress involved in wrestling with creative constraints in a difficult industry. What we have here is instead a story about people who don’t know what they’re doing, in a story being told by film makers who are just as clueless.

Lenny (Matt Goosherst) really wants to famous. It’s not about the money, or so he says, he just wants the glory. Unfortunately his idea to make this dream become a reality involves making short animations using still photography on his phone, creating a few seconds of crude stop motion at a time. It’s not my place to criticize what people do with their time, but surely he must realise that this isn’t going to work out. Living in his father’s basement he doesn’t seem to be doing anything else in life, besides sitting around shirtless eating cereal and playing 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 (Haidyn Harvey) happens to notice Lenny’s hobby as she walks past his garden. For some reason she becomes convinced that his real strengths lie in making a feature length movie. A short animated film perhaps? A joint effort involving two different mediums? No course not, this is going to be a horror story. One filmed in the nearby woods with just the two of them. With no planning ahead of time or a script. For whatever reason she also thinks they both can become famous this way. So like 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.

There are hints that this is supposed to be a comedy of some kind. The idea crossed my mind more than once although it’s never clear if that was the intent. Perhaps the jabs at low rent horror films are intended as some kind of commentary on the overflowing VOD market? There are scenes in which the two leads talk about how audiences are dumb. Or how low budget films are not meant to be made with a script or any real actors. But if if this is the case these moments at humour are awkward, and any attempt to make the story feel self aware falls flat. They shouldn’t really joke about this sort of thing when the production at hand is just as awful, if not worse, than many low quality releases out there.

Most of the time this looks and sounds like a YouTube video that was quickly thrown together. The indoor scenes are particularly the bad, but the film is replete with poorly recorded sound and weird continuity problems. There are fuzzy shots in which the focus levels change, shaky camera zooms and only a basic musical score. The robotic acting and banal filler dialogue 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. Besides a rug to sleep on and a wood saw laying against a wall covered with white plastic. Maybe it’s just an attempt to make things sinister.

The rest of the story meanders through attempts at melodrama that consist of discussions about Lenny’s divorced parents and Heather’s ideas for their hit movie. They spend a lot of time sitting around bickering instead of talking about subjects that might offer some characterisation. It’s never convincing that the duo would want to spend time with one another. There are brief moments which explore about why Lenny hasn’t made any romantic moves on Heather but they’re stilted and half-hearted. A subplot involving Heather trying to get his father to believe Lenny might be gay as a result of this is just bizarre, as is a dance choreography project that’s hinted at as things progress. It’s never funny or sad enough to give the proceedings any sense of personality.

Suggesting this is a horror movie, or a story about horror movies, would be a gross exaggeration. The story about two people trying to produce a ghost story is never given enough focus. With real charm and the slightest bit of research into how films are made it could have been turned around. But there’s never enough detail or humanity to make it work. A mild attempt at some real drama is inevitably included during the last few minutes but it just feels out of place. Any number of genuine moments could have been created from Lenny’s suitability for a typical lead role or Heather’s vapid interest in magazine covers. Troubled youths setting aside their differences and coming together as artists? Now there’s an underdog story. You’ll just have to find it elsewhere.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

About Mocata 117 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world 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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