Ghost Hunt (2006) Review

Amongst all the paranormal “reality” tv shows out these days, it’s refreshing to find a show honest about its fictionality. The anime Ghost Hunt certainly does cover a topic not often shown in anime, and the eastern perspective is rather refreshing for a paranormal aficionado such as myself. However, Ghost Hunt is little more then a mediocre anime, good for a casual watch, but forgettable at best.

Mai is a high school student (of course) who accidentally interferes in a paranormal investigation and the surprisingly young and narcissistic man in charge named Naru employs her as an assistant. From there they and a team of spiritualists help victims of haunting and possessions, growing closer together in the process. The show follows a case-by-case format, with cases taking between 1-5 episodes to solve. There’s no overarching plot, just small subplots carrying between the cases, and none of those are ever resolved (spoilers!). The cases themselves are predictable as hell and you’re often two steps ahead of the characters. On a few occasions there are twists and turns that are unexpected, but these aren’t nearly as plentiful as I would like. The show is generally engaging, but there are far too many times that I got easily distracted while they were just talking back and forth explaining everything.

Mai serves as our entry level character, allowing all the spiritualists to explain to her and the audience everything thats going on. Besides her ignorance, she also has an obnoxious can-do attitude that leads to her constantly complaining when things don’t go her way. Her high-school drama outlook constantly deflates any tension the episodes start to build and her crush on Naru was annoying to me, but I could see how it would be endearing to younger fans. The rest of the spiritualists are all fairly unique and engaging characters, and a few of them do develop by the end of the show. Naru is the quiet badass, who never does much except solve everything and explain it in a Holmesesque monologue. His backstory is very slowly revealed and most of it in the final episode, leaving you wanting more Naru and pissed that he could have been cool anytime before this. If you let yourself get invested in these characters, the show will pay off in a few touching moments.

The animation isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t the show’s strong point. What does stand out about it is the way they chose to visualize the various spirits and demons. It was a treat to look at and made me appreciate the capabilities of an anime vs a live action show. The music is fine, it serves well to create the atmosphere, but there are far too few tracks and you end up hearing the same songs over and over. The intro is probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s nothing more then a mediocre song played over various “spooky” images. There’s nothing interesting there to see and it lasts for far too long.

Now as much as I’ve ragged on this show, there is a certain charm about it that I like. It’s something I haven’t really seen before. It’s a ghost hunting procedural show and surprisingly there aren’t really any shows like that, at least not ones as realistic as Ghost Hunt. Sure you have The real Ghostbusters and Supernatural or even Ghost Hunters, but none of those really show the more realistic type of spirits while investigating like a cop show. I also like how religion is portrayed in this show. Catholicism, Japanese occultism, Chinese practices, and science all work together to achieve various things and common goals. Every religion is on equal footing and that’s something I’ve always subscribed to, but never experienced in the christian heavy western world.

Ghost Hunt is an ok show, with some eye-rollingly stupid moments in it, but if you’re looking for something light to enjoy on and off as you wish, then maybe this is what you’re looking for. It’s very open, go read the manga ending will be infuriating to most, but with all the shitty endings American TV shows are getting these days you should be used to it by now. If you’re into the paranormal then you should definitely check this show out, and even if you just like watching SyFy shows, there will be something here for you to enjoy. You’re not going to want to go out and buy the blu-ray of this show, but some good times will be had. If you really like it, I recommend you check out the manga. It’s not necessarily better, but it does continue the story further and develop the characters a lot more. Ghost Hunt is available for streaming on Netflix, and Hulu.

The Conjuring (2013) review

“The Conjuring” is the 2013 supernatural horror movie from director James Wan and is based on the real-life investigation by Ed and Lorraine Warren. The film is yet another haunted house movie, but its 70s style, strong leads and brilliant directing put this film far above its contemporaries. For those who don’t know the film’s fairly basic plot, here it is. A family of seven move into an old farmhouse and soon are faced with sinister paranormal phenomena. They call in Ed and Lorraine Warren to investigate and (along with their assistant and a skeptical cop) the two unveil the goings-on of the house even at the risk of their own family.

The characters of the Ed and Lorraine stand out in the movie compared to the rest of the fairly bland characters. This is mostly due to the authenticity of the performances in portraying the real-life people, but also because they are unique characters in modern day horror movies. You can connect to them the same way you can the family, because they are people too. However they are above the average victim in that they know what’s going on and they can deal with it. It’s a fine line between hero and average joe that I’ve never really seen in a horror film before. Are they perfect? Of course not. The conflict between them over Lorraine’s safety feels quite forced after a while, but it doesn’t detract from the movie at all and frankly, I would be happy to see these characters again in a sequel.

The rest of the characters are all fairly bland, but have enough characteristics to them that they don’t feel like cardboard cutouts. Rather it feels like we just don’t know them well enough. The performances all around are fair, but nothing outstanding. The kids do a good job for being child actors, with the exception of a few spotty scenes. The father under-acts, often times feeling a touch too stoic and the mother is actually fairly good, especially when comparing the two sides of her performance. The cop and the assistant make good comic relief, but also serve their purpose and don’t feel shoved in (a mistake many other movies make).

In fact, everything in this movie, at least on an initial viewing, seems to have a purpose. The exposition is given fairly well, told through a brilliant opening sequence as well as college lectures. College lectures are a commonplace tool for exposition, foreshadowing, or laying the groundwork for symbolism, but the difference here is that it doesn’t feel forced when watching it. The lectures play into the plot, as well as give insight into character backgrounds and this helps them fit seamlessly into the movie. The character interactions and paranormal trickery all play on older ones to either push the plot along or provide a sense of dread. For example, a line of dialogue from the middle of the movie may provide a crucial plot point later in the movie, and a ghostly sighting in a bedroom will give you inordinate amounts of dread the next time the characters wander in there. In this way the movie feels almost too neat, like it tricked you into thinking it was developing characters when really it was just servicing the plot. But of course, you are so in awe of how all the pieces fit together that you forgive this misgiving.

Even with the strong writing and acting, what really makes this movie something special is the directing. Wan’s work almost seems to have been building up to this point, with him learning different techniques and mastering different styles of storytelling. The ‘70s flair of this movie is hard to ignore, with camera angles, zooms and lighting all screaming “Halloween” and “The Legend of Hell House.” This combined with the very accurate costuming and production design creates a vibe that is only a few steps behind Ti West’s ‘70s homage “House of the devil.” This film differs, however, from “House of the Devil in that its scares don’t come from just the third act.

“The Conjuring” is scary throughout, using the classic technique of ramping up the fear at night and giving relief during the day, all the while escalating at a very brisk pace towards its climax. The majority of the scares do come from jump scares, but it does not use scary music and loud noises to get you to jump. It instead uses the aforementioned dread and tension to get you all tense, then snaps that suspense in the most unexpected ways. It should be noted that this movie avoids the obvious jump scares almost constantly (with a few exceptions) and that is partly why it’s so effective. We expect Action A to happen, but instead it’s glazed over, building the tension more as our minds race to where the scare could come from. Sometimes the scares don’t come at all, like in the opening sequence where there’s not a single jump scare and instead it concentrates on setting the tone of creepiness for of the movie. When the scares do happen they are, above all else, clever. The games the spirits, and by default Wan, play are sometimes disturbingly pleasing. It’s that same joy that someone can derive from a bad guy’s clever plot, or a unique Saw trap. The doll named Annabelle and the innocent game of Hide and Clap are bound to become internet memes thanks to this movie.

This movie, above all else defies expectations. People who hate horror movies are going to hate this movie no matter what, but people who think jump scares are cheap or are just tired of paranormal clichés should walk into this movie with an open mind, because you may be surprised in more ways then one. Above all else I must emphasize that this movie should not be seen by children. This is a movie that even if you don’t find scary, contains all the elements to scar a child. It’s a blend of realism, familiarity, and bat-shit insanity and it’s sure to please for decades to come and it most certainly is going in my collection. James Wan’s career has been building up to this movie, and I feel that he still has a little ways to go. So if studios can keep a hands-off approach with his projects, we are sure to get some movies that every horror fan will be proud to call scary.