October Horrorshow: Entity

Entity, the 2012 horror film from writer/director/producer Steve Stone, threatens to be a found footage flick early on. Thankfully, it’s not. Back when it was made, found footage horror films seemed to come out once or twice a week. But, even though Stone only flirts with the technique, he chose to use its tropes heavily.

The film opens with security footage shot in the green tint of night vision, so familiar from its overuse in found footage horror. The shot is of a spartan room in what looks like an insane asylum. There is an iron bed with thin mattress, a sink, a bucket, and a huddled figure who won’t look at the camera. Over the course of this sequence experienced horror fans will witness trick after trick that was used to better effect in earlier films.

It’s not the most original way to open a film, and it’s made more annoying by how much stuff Stone tried to cram in. The good news is, once this introductory stuff is gotten over with, there’s a decent horror flick to be seen.

In this film’s world, Darkest Secrets is a ghost hunting television show from the UK. Charlotte Riley plays host Kate Hansen, and she’s joined by her crew, Matt and David (Rupert Hill and David Hamilton), and guest psychic Ruth Peacock (Dervla Kirwan), who can communicate with the dead. Unlike in ghost hunting shows out here in the real world, Ruth really can see dead people.

The group have made their way to Siberia to film their latest episode. There, in a remote location, a mass grave containing the remains of 34 unidentified people was found in the 1990s. Now, Darkest Secrets has arrived to see if there is any ghostly activity about. There is, as Ruth encounters multiple spirits in the forest clearing where once was the grave. She also senses that there’s another location nearby that’s just as active as the gravesite. Yuri (Branko Tomovic), their Russian guide and the man who turned the show on to the haunted site, insists there’s nothing off in that direction but an abandoned factory, but off everyone goes into the darkening afternoon at Ruth’s insistence.

After a long hike through the Siberian forest, which leaves none of the cast winded or sweaty, the group find an abandoned complex of some sort. It does look like something industrial, but upon investigation it is revealed as the site of horrible and cruel experiments the Russian government carried out on psychics like Ruth. It led to a bad end for the test subjects, and it is their spirits that haunt the area.

That’s a pretty good idea for a ghost flick. One of the tropes involving ghosts has been that they are linked to violent death. A psychic who dies a violent death, then, should make for one hell of a ghost. In this flick, there are 34. Only one of them really matters, though.

That’s Mischka (Michael David Worden). He’s the poor fellow whom viewers met in the intro. He was the most talented of the psychics, apparently, and the most tortured. It’s still just a television show until the cast first encounters Mischka. That’s the end of the first act, and after that, everyone wants to get out of Dodge. Circumstances, not always owing to Mischka, keep that from happening.

Ghost flicks can be pretty scary. This one isn’t. It’s far more creepy than it is frightening, which is a testament to the production design, but the pervading emotion this film invokes is tension. One of the common themes it shares with other ghost films is mystery. Who is the ghost, why are they dead, why are they here? Answering those questions is more useful in providing a plot than it is in scaring the audience. The between bits is when the ghostly stuff occurs, but Stone telegraphs his punches, leaving no surprises. That includes an ending twist.

Atmosphere is just as important to this film as tension. They work hand in hand in Entity. As mentioned above, the atmosphere owes much to the production design. The location used for the site of the experiments doesn’t quite fit the plot. Perhaps it was a marriage of convenience — the most suitable location close at hand that was available (shooting took place in North Yorkshire, England). But Stone and company made it work, to the point its looks and how it was shot places a nice layer of dread on top of that tension. Again, more creepy than frightening, but used to effect. My only complaint in this area, and it’s a big one, is that filters were applied a little too heavily in post. The film looks like mud.

There are a lot of flaws with this film, and yet it was quite gripping. The performances were up and down but everyone was professional enough that it felt authentic. Perhaps it would have been better if it were scarier, but maybe not. Entity is as much thriller as it is horror, if not more so, and that’s not the worst direction for a ghost flick.

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