Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour
Starring Rissa Walters, Brian Comrie, Dan Comrie, Rusty Hanes Jane Harris
Written by John Comrie and Lisa Comrie
From a story by John Comrie
Directed by Lisa Comrie
Who’s Sarah Landon (Walters)? She’s a not-very-interesting teenage girl whose lifelong best friend Megan was recently killed by a drunk driver, a fact that is the extent of her backstory and that prompts her reluctant visit to Megan’s grandmother, Thelma Shaw (Harris).
On her way to the small town where Thelma lives, Sarah suffers car trouble. This is worth some discussion. In most supernatural stories where the car breaks down and strands a female protagonist somewhere, it is somewhere dangerous, somewhere apart from the safety of her destination. See, for instance, PSYCHO, or any number of haunted house stories.
You would think that Sarah’s breakdown occurs just because this is supposed to be a spooky story and that’s the law — a reasonable assumption since the storyline also includes such horror-shlock staples as the friendly person startling her by coming up from behind, and another false scare thanks to a meowing housecat. But really, it’s also helpful in storytelling terms, since the engine starts making noise just as she’s reaching a town where she intends to stay overnight anyway, and is so very obliging that she’s able to coax the car to a friendly gas station whose proprietor, Carlos (Michael Silva) just happens to be Mr. Exposition Man, capable of launching into a long narrative complete with phrases like “the day (our town) will never forget.” Thank you, car, for dumping Sarah next to the guy who had such useful information.
Once Sarah gets to Thelma’s home, the old lady also proves exposition-ready, as she launches into a long story that includes the intimate details of nightmares suffered by another character. We cannot stress this enough. These characters don’t just tell their stories. they tell their stories as if they first took pains to write them down first, and memorize all the really spooky phrases. And it doesn’t end. When Sarah goes on a chaste date with local hottie Matt Baker (Dan Comrie), he does the same. We ain’t the big city, Mister. We don’t have your fancy-shmancy cable channels for entertainment. We have to make do swappin’ exposition with each other.
Matt’s brother David (Brian), recipient of a curse that promises a violent end at the “Paranormal Hour,” the moment of his 21st birthday, doesn’t have much left to talk about, so he compensates by being buggy and paranoid. This guy actually points out, off the top of his head, that seven thousand people die from electrical fires every year and there’s no way of knowing how many of those accidents were caused by evil spirits. You really can’t beat that logic, nor would we ever want to try.
SARAH LANDON is best described as ghost story for preteen girls of the sort who might think GOOSEBUMPS is way too scary.
But it’s such a slight confection, made at such a minimal budget and with such modest pretensions, that it feels downright cruel to kick it. Why bother to mock a film that never seems to edge over first gear, that never develops any real suspense for the fate of its characters, that never manages any real charm, and that is by its climax (detailed below), downright ludicrous? You can’t be mean to it the way you’d be mean to one of the many much more aggressively bad movies that clog the multiplexes and video store shelves like fatty deposits. You can only say that you never bought a single moment of it, but never cared enough to despise it either. You just wanted it to be over.
We find ourselves limited to a few random observations.
1) Were the title not enough to establish that this movie hoped to make you think it was just like Harry Potter, except with a girl, the logo would. It is such a blatant, hopeful effort that you feel sorry for it.
2) Rissa Walters weighs about ten or twenty pounds more than what is normally considered de rigeur for young actresses these days, an attribute which is downright refreshing in that she looks a little like a human being you might encounter in real life, and not the result of some exotic medical experiment. Alas, this production offers no sign that there is anything else to distinguish her.
3) There is one genuinely clever plot element, a psychic’s advice about “Drew and Rachel,” that confuses our protagonists and leads to many wasted hours on the internet before somebody figures out that the character’s heavy accent was obscuring the phrase “Druid Ritual.” However, that’s the extent of it. So I just saved you some valuable time.
4) The ritual in question requires David to sit on a plastic lawn chair surrounded by a circle of turnips carved into glowing jack-o-lanterns, while wearing a rubber “old man” mask. The closeups of his panicked eyes, through the slits in that silly mask, while the not-very-frightening menace tries to find a way to get at him through the turnips, would be hilariously camp if the movie managed to possess anything approaching that degree of energy.
5) Sarah Landon does almost nothing that renders her a legitimate heroine. She’s not particularly bright, she’s not particularly intrepid, and she’s exposed to danger only for a few fleeting seconds. She’s just a girl. Period. The closing hopeful intimations of another Sarah Landon adventure do not fill us with anticipation.
6) The final solution to the supernatural infestation amounts to a minor character showing up and saying, in about as many words, something like Hey, Cut It Out. This Isn’t Right. It’s not a dramatic confrontation or anything. That really is about as far as it goes. The vengeful ghost sees reason right away and leaves, just like that. Again, Sarah has nothing to do with this. This is, in short, a supernatural menace that did not require John Constantine, the Hellblazer, to exorcise it. Bill Cosby could have done it.