Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Brian Jagger
Writer: Brian Jagger, Randall Reese
Producer: Catrine McGregor
Stars: Todd Haberkorn, Don Shanks, Paris Warner, Easton Lay, Corynn Treadwell, Brian Telestai, Aaron Neel, Amanda Fitch
Struggling ghost hunters unravel a supernatural mystery when they investigate a reportedly haunted prison in Idaho.
I have two go-to gags for glibly generalizing indie horror hackery and the bottomless sewer of copycat crap it feeds. My usual swipe goes after lazy backyard projects that shoehorn ¡°Amityville¡± into their titles for desperate name value that is no longer worth what amateur filmmakers think it is. My alternate potshot takes aim at ¡°found footage¡± haunted building investigations.
At one time, it seemed like ghost hunters traipsing around cursed asylums in a first-person format made up 95% of DTV horror. 95% of those films were also utterly forgettable rubbish. ¡°Grave Encounters¡± (review here) essentially hit the peak of that premise and there hasn¡¯t been much point in further fattening this already obese subgenre since then. Producers finally caught on that audiences weren¡¯t interested anymore and ¡°supernatural spelunking caught on camera¡± wrapped up and went into cinema¡¯s sarcophagus like an unloved mummy.
Which is why ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± caught my eye. It certainly wasn¡¯t the Gravitas Ventures logo, green cast, and washed-out digital video quality, all of which indicated a disposable DIY cheapie readymade for a VOD graveyard. It was the fact that it was 2021, and I couldn¡¯t believe a new ¡°found footage¡± haunted building movie was being released. Feeling ironically nostalgic since it seemed like years since the last one, and feeling oddly obligated since I take so many digs at similar films, I thought I¡¯d check out ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± to see if the subgenre has advanced any since the last time we went through one of these creepily cobwebbed old facilities.
Nope, it hasn¡¯t. ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± is the same as every other ¡°found footage¡± haunted building investigation we¡¯ve ever seen. A couple of kids with handheld cameras spend 80% of the runtime setting up equipment, unearthing a bit of background, and frantically whispering ¡°what was that?¡± at vague sounds and shadows. Then there¡¯s a mildly more energetic last act with a lot of running and screaming and blurring and shaking.
¡°Paranormal Prison¡± doesn¡¯t need to be dissected. Mostly because there isn¡¯t enough to it to dissect, but also because it wouldn¡¯t be right to rip into its creators. From his IMDb profile, director Brian Jagger appears to be an earnest guy who has been trying to make it in movies for ten years. It looks like he had access to an abandoned penitentiary in Idaho and did what any aspiring moviemaker would by co-writing a script to take advantage of the location. He¡¯s just doing it a decade too late. There¡¯s no delight to be had in tearing down a sincere, if misguided and futile, effort from all involved. I¡¯ll offer a few stray observations instead.
Lead actor Todd Haberkorn could pass for a young Joel Osteen. Lead actress Paris Warner looks so much like Liana Liberto, she could have played a long-lost twin sister had there been a third season of Hulu¡¯s ¡°Light as a Feather.¡±
I paused ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± around the 30-minute mark. Over an hour went by, much longer than an ordinary distraction due to disinterest, as I read Vanity Fair¡¯s article on Zack Snyder¡¯s ¡°Justice League¡± and kept checking my inbox hoping for an interesting email. I forgot I hadn¡¯t even finished ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± yet. It would take another hour and a half to get through the final forty minutes of the film.
Out of nowhere in the middle of the movie, one girl launches into an emotional monologue about losing a lover in a military mishap. You¡¯re inclined to believe this tragedy haunts her for a narratively useful reason other than why she¡¯s interested in the supernatural, like maybe that dead boyfriend will be one of the ghosts, except her confession ultimately has nothing to do with anything. I guess it¡¯s good that the two writers try to give some depth to the characters, as two other people also emit sudden outpourings involving family tragedies. But these quizzical contributions make as much sense to the story as the ¡°wait, what?¡± details that constitute the movie¡¯s iffy mystery.
I¡¯ve seen sloppier ¡°found footage¡± films than this. I¡¯ve also seen more entertaining ones. When you think about the many movies ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± mirrors, you can often find a hook that might make them interesting for one reason or another. For instance, ¡°Greystone Park¡± (review here), which features the same setup of documentarians exploring a dilapidated asylum, was directed by Oliver Stone¡¯s son Sean and features a cameo from his famous father. This doesn¡¯t make that bad movie any better, but it¡¯s still something that distinguishes the film.
I don¡¯t know why anyone would be incentivized to watch ¡°Paranormal Prison.¡± Is it because Don Shanks, who plays a weird mannequin in old school jail stripes that bizarrely comes to life, played Michael Myers in ¡°Halloween 5¡± (review here)? Is it to see Todd Haberkorn, who played Spock in a fan-made ¡°Star Trek¡± webseries? Are those things that make this movie unique? All I know is I watched ¡°Paranormal Prison¡± because I was morbidly curious about haunted building ¡°found footage¡± fluttering briefly back to life, and look what little that got me.
Review Score: 20