The Haunting of Pearson Place- A Film Review
Guest Reviewer Paul R. Sieber
Starring Joe Estevez, Suzi Lorraine, Ken Arnold
Written and Directed by Michael Merino
MCM Film Productions
So, when I was asked to review, THE HAUNTING OF PEARSON PLACE, I jumped at the chance to see a new indie horror film in my home theater. So I popped some popcorn, made a diet cola on my SodaStream and sat down to watch this project by Michael Merino (MCM Films). With a cast of great talent, and a good filmmaker at the helm, I expected a fun and scary romp, that might make me drop my popcorn and pull a blanket over my head.
I ate the popcorn, and the blanket never got pulled up.
The film opened with the house that is used throughout the film, Pearson Place, during one “dark and stormy night”, but this took me out of the film almost immediately. An obvious CGI rain effect over footage of the house reminded me of a 20 year old video game cut scene, and made me wonder what I’d see throughout the rest of the film before it even began. Thankfully, the “storm” scenes of the outside of the house (which appeared periodically throughout the film) are the only noticable CGI effects, and I would have to try to get past that. If the entire film were at that level of quality, I could have even accepted it. But it was an obvious technical flaw, in a film that was technically pretty well done, and had bothered to put together a professional cast of actors worthy of a film with a good budget (in the indie community that is). The effects were jarring, and could have been done much better. A friend, who is a professional CGI effects artist, told me, “the best effects are the ones where you don’t know any effects were there at all”. I knew they were there.
So, we get past this first frame of film and move onto the opening sequence, which was done in a hand-held camera format, and was intended to be an exciting chase/scare sequence… but unlike the rest of the film, this scene was not well-filmed or lit, and had a home-video look to it. The remainder of the film was so well shot and lit (with some great camera/dolly work) that at the end of the viewing, this opening sequence looked even more out of place, like it was taken from a different project and just tacked on in the beginning. Not a great start in the first minute, but thankfully, the technical aspects of the film stayed on the higher end for the rest of the movie.
I’ve previously been impressed with the core principal actors, and was interested in seeing Joe Estevez, for what I assumed would be a short cameo, but instead he was a recurring character throughout the film. Estevez chewed up the scenery, with his usual zest, but his character seemed uninspired, and did not move the film forward. Instead, when he came on screen, the film grinded to a halt, as if saying, “Look, Joe is here… let’s get him in an additional scene.” He actually seemed overused, and for who his character was supposed to represent, he seemed out of place.
Ken Arnold and Tracy Teague, as Steven and Gwenn, had a good amount of screen chemistry, although, at times their dialog seemed more like a script reading than real conversation. Perhaps this could have been handled with some tighter editing, but seems more like they weren’t allowed to react to each other except with dialog. I would have preferred to see Gwenn show me her attitude towards Steven rather than her having to describe it to me in unnecessary discussion.
At some times, their dialog seemed out of place, like when she was getting angry at him for not telling her everything he knew about the house. Why was she was angry about that, when she did not tell HIM everything before it all began, and it came across in the film that SHE made the decision to buy the house without consulting him in the first place.
When the other two main characters arrived, Michael and Catherine, played by Regen Wilson and Julie Price, we have already been told that we SHOULD like Catherine, and NOT like Michael, instead of finding that out for ourselves. Michael enters the house with a bit of hammy-ness that is actually refreshing in the film, and he steals most of the scenes he is in with an energy that the rest of the film lacked. Unfortunately, the chemistry between him and Katherine is lacking, and their relationship is not quite as natural as that felt between Steven and Gwenn. The supporting cast, for the most part, seems uninspired. Overacted, and very out of place, the characters seem to have been created simply as horror movie stereotypes. These characters seem like they have no reason to be reacting the way they are, and the audience is given no explanations on why they existed there in the first place. It came across as if someone said, “It’s a scary house, we need to create weird people there”, and they just made them up as they went along. It was more like they were folks playing haunted house at Halloween, than characters that might have once inhabited this “House for the Deranged”. Some were in modern clothing, still others looked Goth, but for the most part, none of them looked like they were a part of this asylum in the 1920’s. Improper makeup and costuming for the time period made the characters seem even more out of place.
The film proceeded to steal a few scenes from other horror films, that seem way out of place. A moving crucifix has no reason to move, pieces of a disjointed “history” of the house come up with no real continuity, past spirits appear for no real reason except to say BOO, and a small attempt to salute THE SHINING, with a current character seeing himself in an old photo, makes no sense at all and does not move the story forward. In fact, the whole point of the couple moving into the house was to fix it up, but at no time does anyone do anything at all to the house. Story is set up, but never followed thru, and things just keep happening at random, hoping for shock value, but never really moving any story towards any conclusion. When the film finally ends, I wasn’t even sure as it was over, as I hadn’t felt it going forward enough, and honestly, I didn’t care enough about the characters to wonder what their fates might be.
Technically, the film (other than the opening scene and the bad CGI) is very well crafted. Moody lighting, excellent sound and foley work, I never miss a thing that one of the characters is saying. The script is not too bad, but I don’t feel that any new haunted house ideas were expressed, making the story pretty predictable and, well… not very scary. Scares were intended to be visual, instead of cerebral. You can scare my mind more than my eyes, and the story was so convoluted, that my mind wasn’t finding anything to be frightened of, and the visual BOOs were predictable.
On a scale of Small popcorn to Large popcorn with extra butter:
I give it a Medium popcorn without butter. The film can be purchased HERE.
Paul R. Sieber is a versatile and talented Washington DC area actor that can be seen in productions of STAR TREK, THE WILD WILD WEST, TALES OF THE FIXER, THE ADVENTURES OF LOUANNA LEE, and THE GARDEN OF EDEN. His facebook page can be found HERE.