Several compelling horror films — from Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting to Jennifer Kent’s terrifying The Babadook — skate along an ambiguous boundary between psychological disintegration and truly supernatural horror. Apparition also explores this territory, with mixed success.
Directed by Quinn Saunders from a script by Pete Cafaro and Andrew Kayros, Apparition is a portrayal of the ravages of grief and guilt in the guise of a haunted house thriller. Structured around a clever narrative conceit that unfolds in the film’s final act, the story’s impact is muted by pacing and focus problems during much of the picture’s 100-minute running time. After a well-paced exposition in the first act, the long middle section meanders. The film then moves too hurriedly through the important final scenes that lead to the film’s climax.
A spooky opening — which literally begins on a dark and stormy night — establishes the film’s unsettling tone. Doug (Jody Quigley) and Lori (Katrina Law) are in love, engaged to be married, and planning to restore an old country farmhouse together. The appearance of Lori’s ex-lover at the couple’s engagement party triggers an angry response from Doug and leads to a tragic accident that takes Lori’s life. Consumed by grief, Doug vows to complete the couple’s planned work on the farmhouse as a way to assuage his guilt and pay homage to his lost love.
But the house is more than just a major rehabilitation project. It is also a place of past horrors.
We learn of the house’s history from that most hoary of horror movie tropes: the crazy old man at the bar who prophetically warns of the house’s evil. Fortunately, Thomas Roy’s juicy performance as Woody brings the right mix of creepiness and world-weariness to make the scene work.
Doug obsessively works alone in the house during the film’s second act. His mental state slowly deteriorates and he begins to sense a malevolent presence in the building. As he becomes more isolated, the house’s shadowy apparitions become more concrete, changing from a vague presence to a manifest appearance of his deceased fiancée that lets Doug regain a fantasy relationship with his former love.
While the film works well when portraying these phantasms of Doug’s ebbing sanity, the more supernatural expressions of the house’s evil history are less successful. We learn from creepy curmudgeon Woody that the house’s history includes not one, but two previous incidents of carnage, when one would have sufficed to support the movie’s plot. After Doug encounters a frightening specter from the house’s past, he starts awake to realize it was only a dream. While this provides a convenient jolt during the film’s lengthy middle section, it’s a technique that is not only overly used in the horror genre, it’s overly used in this film — occurring no less than three times.
Early in the film, Doug meets Jamie (Lili Bordán), an attractive neighbor in need of someone who knows how to change a tire, a role which Doug gladly fulfills. Jamie comes to the fore in the movie’s third act, offering Doug the opportunity for healing and redemption. Jamie has a history of relationships with damaged men, and Doug certainly fits that bill. Initially rejecting her overtures, Doug struggles with separating from his attachment with the phantasm of Lori to embrace Jamie’s affections.
While the movie’s middle section goes on for too long, the third act seems rushed. Accepting Doug’s growing closeness to Jamie is critical to the film’s denouement. Allowing the audience to become more deeply immersed in Doug’s apparent rehabilitation would have heightened the impact of the film’s conclusion.
Despite a clever narrative turn at the end and some effective creepiness, Apparition fails to escape the shackles of a routine horror film.
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