Keep the EVIL Family Drama for Your Mama. “Abigail Haunting” reviewed (High Fliers Films / Digital Screener)

While searching for a life in Reno, Katie reluctantly becomes an accomplice in a heist job with her abusive boyfriend, scoring a small brown paper bag packed with stolen money.  In the middle of post-heist uncertainty, an opportunity to escape a troubled relationship presents itself and Katie hightails it to her hometown of Prescott with the loot, leaving the dark life behind her in Reno.  Unsure of her next steps, she hides away by moving back into her childhood trailer home with foster mother, Marge, who has nearly deteriorated into a completely catatonic state over the last few years.  As the days pass and Katie catches up with Brian, rekindling a relationship with a high school crush, her secretive past becomes plaited into Marge’s sinister skeleton in the cupboard that pulls both of them into the supernatural wrath of a tormented spirit haunting the trailer home, merging the past and present with a shocking conclusion.

Cursed.  No, not the vengeful spirit who resurrects to plague havoc on the still breathing, flesh and boned to set their tortured, spiritual planed souls to rest.  The curse I speak of involves putting Haunting into the title of any ghost film that has been released in, oh let’s say, the last 20 or so years culminating into being one mediocre release after another of mainstream and independent films that has, frankly the lack of a better word, cursed the subgenre.  Type haunting in the IMDB search field and just glaze over as hundreds of films crash over you in a tsunami of stale capitalism ever since the remake of Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” in 1999 with Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  “The Haunting of Connecticut.”  “An American Haunting.”  “23:59:  The Haunting Hour.”  Being one step behind the hackneyed “possession” in nearly every title about, well, possession, these post-2000 ghost films are just morsels of the bigger crapola pie that investors love to sink as little of their money into as possible because the return is greater because ghost film don’t necessarily a R rating unlike other subgenres and, sometimes, piggyback off a successful film with the parlance.  PG-13 in slashers is an oxymoron, if you ask me, but in with ghosts, fear of mysticism and the unknown has enough power to scare if done correctly, i.e. the original “Poltergeist.”  This unbecoming setup leads us to the 2020 release of the revenant thriller “Abigail Haunting,” the latest Kelly Schwarze written and directed full length film after tackling an Area 51 inspired bloody battle beyond the stars set in our backyard with “Alien Domicile, and before we go into whether the Schwarze film, co-written alongside Charisma Manualt, can tame an unbridled use of title-exploitation with a first rate story, the Indie Film Factory production will receive full benefit of the doubt until the end of the review.


The story follows a small town girl, Katie, from Prescott, Nevada who falls into small time crime with a lowlife boyfriend that quickly turns sour and deadly after an armed cash grab, presumably from a Reno casino.  Chelsea Jurkiewicz fits that small description recipe of stuck in a rut local girl without much cause for disbelief.  As Katie, Jurkiewicz’s able to be the part of a young, harried woman running from a checkered past and into the flames of a paranormal bombardment.  The then early 20-something, “Stalker” actress kept Katie balanced between her cash stealing time in Reno, integrating back into what was a rough patch with an unreasonable and abusive foster mother, and dealing with unexplainable occurrences of nightlights turning on by themselves, her room being ransacked, and succumbing to disturbing visions while reminiscing of being a scared child hidden behind a makeshift potato sack mask that becomes a reoccurring object throughout.   While Schwarze loosely ties all the facets together in a nice, tight bow that leads to a climatic unraveling of Katie’s past, the visually assaulted Katie suffers as the centerpiece punching bag that connects them altogether.  To top Katie’s mounting pressure, a face from the past tries to pry his way into her life.  A lost fling in Katie’s fleeting existence is Brian, played by Austin Collazo in his debut film performance, forcing himself into her life in what reeks of single parent desperation.  A moment involving Katie looking through a photo scrap book shows the two smiling together in a lone picture, as if she’s reflecting upon a previous romance or friendship that has since fizzled, but that’s about the extent of their history that doesn’t dive deeper into the reflection or explain the spark from the sudden interest from Brian.  At the crux of the story is Marge (Brenda Daly), a dirtied, nightgown wearing middle-aged woman who fostered abandoned at 4 months old Katie in what only has been, in Katie’s sole exposition, a terrible experience.  Schwarze instinctively ties the trailer home and Marge together as a single entity, enacting as one to push Katie around in a fit of unmotivated hysteria.  Katie doesn’t seem too eager to lift an investigated finger any of phenomena that has plagued her in the home, in the back shed, or even follows her out on a date with Brian.  Instead, Brian initiates digging into her past that sends Katie down Marge’s rabbit hole of hidden secrets in an off kilter directional take where a protagonist stands indifferent or remains stagnant after multiple Abigail encounters that would seemingly rouse up curiosity or for the sake of proving sanity.  Rounding out “Abigail Haunting” is Michael Monteiro, Christopher Brown, and Taylor May as the titular ghost.

Not a positive start with flat, often time dunce, characters in “Abigail Haunting.”  The mindset behind Katie’s involvement with the Reno robbery and a scoundrel lover strains to play a bigger role into the eerie defense she’s positionally locked into at Marge’s dreary trailer home.  Schwarze remains on the fringes around the preoccupations that descend Katie into this dark place in her life between searching for her real mother that abandoned her as an infant, the deadly robbery in Reno, and the abusive ex that all seem to be weighing less on Katie’s shoulders than the duffle bag of a couple thousand dollars that would typical skewer one’s psyche, manifesting more than just the typical side effects of pressure.  Instead, Schwarz doesn’t fold in well enough the incorporation of our angry spirit, Abigail, whose unexplained appearance out of the Nevada blue sky in between Katie’s leaving and returning to Marge’s home denotes not one single explanation of when and why Abigail chooses to be a resurrected, phantasmal spite.  More jeopardizing toward Katie’s past and present life is her obsession with the stolen money versus living a decent life with possibly Brian and his dissociable, divorce struck kid, who the former is clearly obsessed with her, but the story more so saturates with a free floating, full torso phantasm, as the Ghostbusters would say, that undermines the subterranean psychology at work here and clouds the ghost foundation built on deceits, lies, and ugly truths. What “Abigail Haunting” succumbs to is being about as rudimentary as they come with a climax too riddles with plot holes that squish much of good establishing camera work and some decently laid jump scares. Haunting, as in a title, still curses the horror subgenre with middle-of-the-road dynamism.

Death clings to us all. In “Abigail Haunting,” death clings to vengeance in this supernatural thriller dropping on DVD in the UK on February 8th courtesy of High Flier Films and ITN Distribution. The region 2, PAL encoded DVD will be presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a runtime of approx. 85 minutes. I initially had high hopes for Abigail to be at least be a derivative carbon copy of “The Conjuring” as “Scare Me’s” Michael TusHaus’s shows off impressive camera work that organically flows through Marge’s tight quartered trailer, as well as in other scenes when applicable outside the trailer location, with generous use of a stepping in-stepping out steady cam. TusHaus’s hard lighting also creates stern atmospherics with full bodied shadows that symbolically keep secrets and spirits in the dark. The digital release had no extra bonus feature available with none displayed on High Flier Film’s website. There were also no bonus scenes during or after the credits. Solid cinematography and palatable performances couldn’t plug up all the plot holes that stiffen “Abigail Haunting” into a two-bit carnival attraction that looks cool upon entry but not worth the money on exit.

 

A Video Diary of Evil. “The Death of April” review!

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Megan Mullen, freshly out of college life, feels a strong urge to pick up and move from her comfortable California family home to the new surroundings of New Jersey. She can’t explain her why to move, but she quickly finds an apartment in East Rutherford where she settles in easily, creates a video journal for her friends and family back home, begins her new job as a school teacher, and gains a wonderful boyfriend. Everything seems to be going perfect for Megan until unexplainable, seemingly paranormal, acts happen in her apartment: doors open and close mysteriously, objects move on their own, and her soul doesn’t feel like her own. As she continues to her video journal, she further believes her apartment was once rented by April, a young girl similar to Megan who ended up brutally murdered and found on a riverbank, and that she is haunting her. This is Megan’s story told through a documentary revealed by her friends and family to the supernatural speculation of what causes Megan’s torment and downfall.
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In the spirit of new releases on or around horror’s big night of Halloween, Director Ruben Rodriquez’s 2012 paranormal mockumenatry “The Death of April” comes to life on for the first time on DVD from MVDVisual. Similar to the “Paranormal Activity” series, the pseudo documentary about a dangerous, abode dwelling spirit or spirits bombarding their supernatural havoc upon helpless inhabitants. While the release time is appropriate and has a modest appreciation for creepy atmospheres, “The Death of April” fails to bring something new to the genre table and I can’t see the easily overlooked “The Death of April” being the catalyst to spark more interest in a ghostly genre that becomes overpopulated, by the major studios, during the month of October.
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Backed finically by the Mojo Creative Group that was founded by Ruben Rodriguez, the mockumentary introduces a modest talent of actors and actresses including Katarina Hughes as Megan Mullen. Hughes, in her first feature film, delivers the much needed energy to a slow, stagnant script, but the contrast exaggerates Katarina’s overzealous happy-new-girl-moving-to-a-different-coast attitude. Her co-stars Adam Lowder as her brother Stephen Mullen, The Knick’s Chelsea Clark as her best friend, RayMartell Moore as her boyfriend Tim, and Stephanie Domini as her mother, who by the way looks almost the same age as Megan, sold their story, their take, of Megan’s downward events. That being said, Lowder, Clark, Moore, and Domini couldn’t lift the script out of the deep trenches of the uninteresting and mechanical motions.
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The script, which was also written by Ruben Rodriguez, could be considered to contain two interpretations, one literal and the other more concealed. The more literal interpretation is my least favorite of the two. Megan’s family constantly disowns the fact that she might actually be haunted by an apartment spirit; in fact, her family and friends negatively pelt her with denials and accusations, never once considering Megan’s theories of an aggressive April spirit. This is where the script becomes redundant as Megan’s brother Stephen and also her mother Stephanie reiterate over and over about how close their relationship with Megan was and how she had firm family roots in California and also proclaim the excuses of how she’s looking for attention or not coping with a new surrounding very well. Rodriguez’s script suffers by not displaying alternate ways in exploring how her family and friends should handle Megan’s paranoia or paranormal problem. Even when they’re is undeniable video proof with the video starting to distort and capturing uncontrollable movements from inanimate objects, nobody believes Megan and that would drive anybody to the loony bin. The second interpretation with, perhaps, a more underlying metaphor is that Megan is slowly going nuts. Her brother Stephen does mention her previous slightly creepy issues with Megan before her big impulsive move to the east coast. Almost like her impulsiveness and her energy-filled antics seemed manic and her sanity practically dissolved when she moved thousands of miles away from her support group in California. Megan’s mind could have invented April and her family, knowing that she’s had weird issues in the past, chalks this up to just being another mental issue. Of course, the video diary proof, even with her brother and friend witnesses, nearly excludes the second theory and that her “desire” to move far away from her family stems from April pulling her in that direction.
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“The Death of April” won’t make waves on the PKE meter. The picture quality of the MVDVisual and ITN distribution DVD release looks clean considering that most scenes had intentional video quality posterization and distortion for the web and home video diary appearance. The front cover art is slightly misleading with a foreboding, rundown gothic style house in the background when actually Megan lives in a sectioned off duplex apartment in a suburban neighbor of a New Jersey home that doesn’t look necessarily evil at all. Also, who I’m guessing is spirit of April on the front cover with a Ouija board in her clutches sports sexy booty denim shorts as if to lure a certain audience to the release. We’re not sold on “The Death of April” as too many before it’s time have come across and planted their seed and sprouted firm in place.