The plot description for The Haunting Of Emily makes it sound like a potentially decent chiller. It states that young Emily has returned to her mother and stepfather after being missing for over a year. But she hasn’t come back alone. Plot descriptions are there to sell the movie being described, obviously, but this one is more misleading than most. Yes, the start of the movie sets up that scenario, and it’s good not to spoil any twists and surprises, but things soon change to give the viewer a very different kind of experience. And that experience is not a good one.
Director Jared Black, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Thor Wixom, obviously thought that he was being interesting and clever with his material, but he confuses incoherence and randomness with intrigue and intensity. Take the completely unnecessary pre-credits seuence, for example, which is eventually referred to again in the third act of the movie. There was no need for that to be thrown in there, before viewers know what is going on or even who is in the scene, but Black obviously thinks that his structuring is playful and sly. It’s not. It’s just frustrating and unengaging.
The same can be said of the main characters, who suffer just as much from the structure of the plotting. Some better actors may have been able to overcome the material, even slightly, but poor Nathan Polzin, Jolene Kay, Shalaina Castle, and Chris Gann (as the main players) just can’t make anything memorable from the mess they’re given. Polzin, in particular, is left out to dry in a number of scenes that end up being so overblown that they’re almost laughable.
This is the first feature from Black, and it shows. He’s previously directed a couple of horror comedy shorts (and, as they’re titled Jingle Dead and Jingle Dead II, they actually sound like my kind of fun) but seems determined here to show that he can honestly really seriously work within the realm of more straightforward horror. Which explains why a potentially enjoyable, and simple, plot is instead warped into an overwrought muddle.
Despite the many negative aspects I could choose to focus on here, there are one or two glimmers of hope. Black needs a few more resources for his next movie. A stronger script, maybe not written by himself (to allow himself a bit more distance), could make all the difference. And an editor who will remind him that simple and clean is sometimes the best way to lay out the steps of a narrative. Or he might just go back to basics and develop a feature that he can call Jingle Dead III. And I would be up for that.
The Haunting Of Emily hits DVD shelves tomorrow in the UK. I can’t recommend it.
DIRECTOR: JARED BLACK
WRITER: THOR WIXOM, JARED BLACK
STARS: NATHAN POLZIN, JOLENE KAY, SHALAINA CASTLE, CHRIS GANN, TAYLOR PIGEON
RUNTIME: 81 MINS APPROX