Even though it is allegedly haunted, Toronto’s moth-balled Lower Bay subway station is strangely recognizable. It has often doubled for other subways in movies like Don’t Say a Word, Bullet Proof Monk, and the Total Recall remake. It was only operational from late February 1966 to early September of the same year. Supposedly, it was closed because of design flaws rather than the rumored death of “The Woman in Red,” but when was the last time a government agency closed a big expensive public works project just because it was poorly laid out? An intrepid paranormal investigator ventures down to debunk the station, but she might be getting in over her head in Jenna Mattison’s The Sound (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
Kelly Johansen believes in the power of twitter rather than ghosts. She has built a large following disproving supposed hauntings. Sometimes her rational worldly explanations come as a relief to the not-so-haunted-after-all. In addition to her smart phone, she also has a lot of gear for measuring high and low frequency sound waves, which are usually part of her logical explanation for ghost sightings. She will lug it all down to the shuttered Lower Bay station (sans permission, of course), where her initial readings are off the charts.
It is quiet down there—too quiet—and the infrasonic sound waves are dangerously low. Prolonged exposure will cause nose bleeds, drowsiness, and eventually madness. By the way, Lower Bay was also built over a Potter’s Field and next to a mad house. These are two significant items that turn up in the google search Johansen probably should have conducted before rushing off to Toronto. At least the wifi is strong down there. The same will not be true for her state of mind.
The cool thing about The Sound is that it takes a credible shot at fusing technology with the supernatural. Instead of being part of the logical scientific explanation, the ultra-low frequency sound waves might just an indicator of uncanny juju afoot. Plus, the station itself and the warren of support tunnels are massively creepy. Frankly, this film ought to discourage further attempts at urban exploration, because it looks incredibly sinister and dangerous.
Mattison and her design team of Jim Goodall and Iskander Alex Sayapov have created a massively eerie subterranean environment, but their work is somewhat sabotaged by Rose McGowan’s lifeless lead performance. Yes, Johansen is supposed to be slowly succumbing to the effects of the infrasonics, but even in the safety of her Detroit apartment (more likely that’s Grosse Point), she is a rather dull, pedestrian presence. Johansen also behaves rather contemptuously towards the little boy and his grandfather (played by the great Stephen McHattie) in the prologue sequence, which further hampers our feelings of suspense and tension when she finds herself in supernatural harm’s way. Still, we can always count on crafty and colorful vets like McHattie and Christopher Lloyd (as a weirdly diligent maintenance man) to liven things up.
The Sound is a pretty impressive example of horror movie mise-en-scène, but it is not McGowan’s finest hour. Still, genre fans have been able to look past wooden performances before. It is worth doing so again in this case, because Mattison shows so much potential as a filmmaker. Recommended for horror enthusiasts looking for new talent, The Sound opens this Friday (9/29) in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinema.