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October 2010

The Haunting Of Marsten Manor

cast: Brianne Davis, Ken Luckey, Christine Woods, Ezra Buzzington, and C. Thomas Howell

director: Dave Sapp

85 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
MVM DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 1/10
review by A.E. Grace

The Haunting Of Marsten Manor

The Haunting Of Marsten Manor made its debut at film festivals, and was written, produced, directed and so on, by the same trio of people. Whilst I am a supporter of indie films, particularly films which - like this one - have an extremely low budget, I'm afraid this was rather a bad contribution, and there are precious few people involved to blame.

The main roles were seemingly given to three actors who most represented the stereotype of 'funky young adult,' with acting so wooden they might have used three planks and I would scarcely have noticed. Of course, working from a terrible screenplay doesn't help a bad actor do much better, and the contrived metaphors, visions, and scenes of struggle only made it seem as though it had been written and performed by the local amateur dramatics group, who practised in the church hall.

The story revolves around a blind girl named Jill, who is struggling with her disability and faith, as well as the terrible plight of not being able to apply impeccable make-up, by herself, anymore. Oh wait - it appears that wasn't an issue after all for this beauty-queen clich´┐Ż, which I'm glad of, because I might have cried if I thought she couldn't be perfect anymore. It was touching, really.

Accompanied by her two friends, Jill fights off patronising lawyers and makes her fiercely independent way to Marsten Manor, which has been left to Jill by her deceased aunt. Helped along by Rob (a lame example of a jock with a heart, who declares his love for Jill in a rather cringing way about 20 minutes into the film), and quirky optimist Erika, the three of them begin to discover Marsten Manor's curious past, and experience some kooky goings-on.

The plot itself is naive and nonsensical, having no clear direction in terms of genre and pace especially. Although the film is declared to be a mystery drama, the presence of a ghost in combination with a title that includes the word 'haunting' would rather suggest that this film was supposed to be a horror, but just hadn't come up with the goods to support that label.

The cultural references towards the climax of the film are rather messily produced, and without much clarity; the 'imprint' as Rob calls it (apparently this womanising jock knows supernatural lingo, now) or 'flashback' of a black woman cradling a suspiciously Indian-looking child simply screamed beginner.

This scene entails a group of 19th century soldiers cornering the woman and child and threatening to kill them, but the playfulness of their threats made them look more like psychotic hillbillies, which caused the realism to plummet all the more. As well as this, the child had been given an oversized Jackson Five afro to wear (just in case you didn't realise he was black) which crushed my attempt at taking the film seriously for good.

Goofs included an extremely small, modern-fitted kitchen of what was supposed to be an ancient manor house, and a family bible that had been typed up on a computer with red ink. As well as this, the house itself seemed to have been completely refurbished with modern items and fittings, which didn't do much to convince me that the place was haunt-worthy at all.

But despite the poorly executed metaphors, such as Jill juxtaposing her inability to physically see anything with her inability to realise her own self-worth, there were a couple of decent moments in this film. I was quite impressed by the special effects that were used when the ghost of Kate Marsten lures Jill to the stairwell, for the bed sheet and the key around her neck moved on their own with not a string in sight. Secondly, there was - oh, no. That was all.

This film might have appeared in film festivals but, frankly, it didn't deserve its place; other low-budget indie films such as The Secrets In Their Eyes and Antichrist were better than this by a long shot, and so I expected more from this addition. 85 minutes of my attention was a stretch, and with credits that boast the caterers, I was left actually feeling ashamed for them.



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