In this independent Canadian film, a couple of lifelong friends take over a restaurant, not realizing that it is haunted.

Stars and Executive Producers

Shaine Jones as Brad
Erika Conway as Colette
Chaz Chamberlain as Jason
Alejandra Parra as Chantal

Produced, Written and Directed by Bryce McLaughlin

Complete details are available on this IMDB page.

Availability Information

This review is based on a screener copy. The film does not yet have a distributor.

Premise

Two friends take over a restaurant that has recently failed, and plan to turn it into a success. The interior designers they hire convince them to film the renovation process for a documentary, unaware that they will be documenting a haunting as well.

High Point

There’s some amusing comedy that ensues from the two couples trying to hide relationships from each other, particularly after the electrocution.

Low Point

There have been a number of low budget documentary-style movies since The Blair Witch Project. This has a few differences that I’ll get into later, but one this is common: the “shaky cam” camera style. When the camera crew is heading to a location they didn’t expect to be in, that makes perfect sense. When the goal is to film renovations, footage in the location being renovated would probably be shot with a tripod. There don’t seem to be any moments in which the camera is being shaken deliberately just to give the shaky look, but the camera being used (the Canon XH A1, according to the credits) seems to reduce blurring in the compressed final codecs by omitting frames, making motions during rapid camera movements distractingly unnatural. It’s only apparent on three or four occasions, but it knocked me out of the movie each time. It also doesn’t seem to perform particularly well under low light conditions, but that only matters for about 5 minutes of the film’s 91 minute runtime. These problems, however, are the kind of thing that cannot be noticed on the date of filming. With an independent film budget, the filmmakers were probably unable to go back for reshoots as a Hollywood production would have managed.

The Review

This has some definite original elements. Rather than escalating through the typical “increasing body count,” this deals with fallout in the lives of the people involved. It increases the tension and maintains a need to solve the problem, but does it in a way that drives characters and the story away from the usual trappings and idiotic decisions made by horror movie characters. You still want them to succeed and solve the problem, but you never have to scream “don’t open the door!” or “don’t go downstairs alone!” or the like at the screen while viewing. The script was unique, but the documentary-style direction was not. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects were minimal. In fact, only one effect would have required post-production work in my estimation. That one initally looks good. However, the effects need to be limited to the character on the right hand side of the screen. When that character reaches onto the left side, there’s a visible border, and a similar problem when the character on the left reaches to the right. It’s not a major issue, but it’s noticeable. I give it 3 out of 6.

The story is well formed. The documentary format allows for a quick and explicit introduction of characters and histories so we can then move into the story itself. While the ghost can never be ignored, the characters each have their own goals and personalities, and these colour the choices they make and the priorities they have. I give it 5 out of 6.

The acting from the leads is very strong. We know what they want, and there’s a very natural feel that made me believe much of the dialogue was improvised early on. Jones, Conway, Chamberlain and Parra have an easy rapport that makes the core ensemble easy to watch and believe. Much of the dialogue overlaps, which is something consistent with reality but not most Hollywood productions. It is in the overlapping dialogue that we can tell the lead actors are this natural working from a script, as some of the actors in less prominent roles give their lines out of sequences, with responses preceeding prompts. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s enough to speak to the abilities of the leads. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production works fairly well. The “shaky cam” seems more prominent than was probably planned due to the technological capabilities of the camera, but that’s an issue that bothered me more than it would like bother others in the world at large. The musical score seems to have been mixed at surprisingly high volumes at times, but the piano riff it uses sets the mood well. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response is good. There are genuinely funny moments, and the avoidance of the typical “haunted house” trappings prevents the usual boredom that comes from predictability. It’s also nice to see and hear characters with a strong southern Irish accent who still speak with the southern Irish vocabulary and slang. (I’m in the first Canadian-born generation of two Irish families, and this usually bothers me on film: the Irish characters have a strong accent, but speak with Hollywood phrases.) Unlike the “Blair Witch Project” that opened the doors to funding this sort of thing, the ending is actually satisfying. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, this is worth checking out if you want to see an atypical ghost story. If I learn of a time and/or place to check it out, I’ll list it in the Bureau 42 calendar (accessible through the right hand side of the site) so subscribers know when and where to go. Those interested in the genre will likely find the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Monbella and the Curse of 1809 receives 31 out of 42.