Though its title gives off connotations of local farmers being spooked as they milk their cows, in rustic Yorkshire communities, THE GHOSTS OF EDENDALE is in fact a supernatural chiller set in the hills of Hollywood. Directed by Stefan Avalos, who seems to be stepping back from his flawed-but-interesting late ‘90s effort LAST BROADCAST, this film throws us far too few scraps of uneasiness over its slow burning duration, and, due to its sometimes ropey SOV visuals, appears far too roughshod for a film that centres on the well off elite of Tinseltown.
After moving in to their swanky LA home, model Rachel (Paula Ficara) and writer Kevin (Stephen Wastell) plan to write the “great American screenplay”. Despite being helped by their neighbours to move in, Rachel finds it difficult to settle in, as the house revives hallucinations that she has been recovering from. Kevin, by contrast, wastes no time getting to work, the strange past of the house – stretching back, ominously, to something that happened in Hollywood’s silent era, involving a cowboy star – taking him dangerously close to ghosts of the past. So it seems, anyway…
A slow burner in the tradition of classical ghost stories, THE GHOSTS OF EDENDALE is marred immediately by clumsy attempts to create a mood of ‘normality’. In a nutshell, we have to watch Kevin and Rachel not only move in to their new home, but slowly unpack, before being helped along by their curious neighbours and engaging in plentiful small talk. The result, a tawdry bit of cinematic dead time, does little to make us want to watch on to see if it gets good later on, and doesn’t exactly endear the leading couple to us. As is the problem with even some of the best zero/low budget productions, the film begins ‘cold’, its actors delivering their lines listlessly; a feeling that is reinforced by the glassy, cold, impersonal look of films such as this that are shot on DV.
As such, and particularly at a time when such big budgeted, studio approved films as SILENT HILL show that they can push the envelope in terms of cinematic mood and viscera, EDENDALE is an immediate test of patience that barely feels professional. Steadily taking us from normality into the supernatural, the film offers us a few vaguely creepy computer generated glimpses of ghostly faces emerging from the garden fence, and – admittedly – there is a nice interior sequence, shot during the luminous pink of the magic hour, when the pink/orange sheen recedes into an odd, dull glow that puts the scene into a very strange mood of disquiet. However, there is little of visual interest to counterpoint this scene, allowing as it does the murk to stay with us a little too long and, sadly, becoming something of an eyesore.
For a film that wants to convince us of its ‘reality’, before it takes us into the giddy realm of the supernatural, the DV format will always be something of a bane. The verisimilitude (appearance of reality) that is ingrained into our expectations of what film is/should look like, from years of exposure – ironically (!) – to Hollywood movies, is let down by the type of recording equipment more commonly associated with fly-on-the-wall documentaries. It’s an uneasy discrepancy between form and content that really irks at times. Some filmmakers can use DV to produce visuals that are not only striking, but also essential to the content of what they are making (Ben Rekhi’s exceptional drama WATERBORNE springs immediately to mind, form and content fusing beautifully); most, however, cannot, instead coming across as an extension of the glut of appalling super-8 films that followed the waste of space that was THE DEAD NEXT DOOR during the late ‘80s. Whilst we cannot deny the reality that horror films are being made more quickly and cheaply, most of them come across as rehearsals of films, as opposed to proper films themselves (of course, being that it’s shot on video, it isn’t technically a ‘film’). So does EDENDALE, sadly.
Brief moments of abnormality, especially when Rachel ‘sees’ Kevin as a phantom cowboy with a literally skeletal jaw, are welcome. As are the odd neat shot here and there. The story, which takes us into Sarah’s exclusion from the increasingly odd Kevin, his work and his circle of film biz well doers, and a strange parallel between Kevin and a long dead silent movie star called Tom Mix, culminates in a MULHOLLAND DRIVE style of character displacement, with a conjoined theme involving the difficulties of ‘making it big’ in a place as tough and unforgiving as Hollywood. Where such a shift fitted perfectly into the dreamlike style and rhythms of David Lynch’s last masterpiece, pulling the rug from under us feels like a bit (or maybe a lot) of a cheat – an unsatisfying end to a film that never threatened to really take us anywhere special.
Directed by Stefan Avalos
USA / 2003 / 90 minutes
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
Region 2 / PAL / Full screen
THE GHOSTS OF EDENDALE