Thursday, January 02, 2020

Apparition: Another Haunted Foray into Preston Castle


This app is really a piece of supernatural malware. Using it is risky under any circumstances, but the ill effects are exacerbated by human nature and human stupidity. Following it to a place like Preston School of Industry (a.k.a. Preston Castle), possibly the most notorious reform school in America is obviously a bad idea. Nevertheless, that is the premise of Wayman Boone’s Apparition, which concludes its “excuse me” theatrical engagement tonight in Brooklyn.

In real life, Preston was pretty bad, but former wards like Merle Haggard, Neal Cassady, and Edward Bunker lived to talk about it (clearly, it was not very effective in the case of the latter). However, it is hard to believe guards would actually use cigar-cutters to snip off kids’ fingers, as we see in the film’s second nasty prologue. (Yes, it takes forever to get to the primary narrative strand.)

Eventually, we reach the contemporary timeline. At which point, the nice girl Skylar King is marrying evil Warden White’s obnoxious son Derek, for reasons neither of them really understands. On the night of the rehearsal dinner, they start messing around with an app created by Derek’s way-on-the-spectrum brother Sam that creates a connection to the spirit realm. Supposedly, he downloaded some material from the dark web, but there is no serious attempt to explain how it works.

Regardless, Taylor, the daughter of one of White’s deputies, uses it first, to reach her late grandmother, in a deceptively benign encounter. Skyler tries it next—and off they go to the abandoned Preston Castle, with her embittered fiancĂ© griping and moaning the whole way. Fortunately, the vengeful spirits will shut him up. We could watch him get killed several times over, but the Skyler’s companions are rock-stupid but weirdly likable, so they really don’t seem to deserve what’s in store for them.

Apparition goes from being bad in an absolutely appalling way, to being bad in a meat-headed, ham-fisted kind of way. Screenwriters Rob Rose, Boone, Mark S. Allen, and Howard Burd sound like they are going for intentional unintentional humor when they have their characters say things like, “what’s the worst that could happen.”

So, when Kevin Pollak looks back on his career, he probably will not rank playing Warden White alongside his roles in Mrs. Maisel, A Few Good Men, and The Usual Suspects. He is not exactly a natural big-screen heavy, but he manages to project some fierceness, probably by channeling all his frustration with his agent for getting him into this gig.  (Where’s Susie Myerson when you need her?) Honestly, Megan West and Jason Woods give the film more energy than it deserves as the tag-alongs, Taylor and Nate. On the other hand, Annalisa Cochrane’s Skyler and Matthew Barnes’ Derek are pretty bland, but we can definitely believe their dislike for each other.

Easily the best thing about Apparition is the creepy old Preston Castle, but it is not the first horror movie to use it as a setting, so you can’t give it credit for originality in that respect. One of the last releases of 2019 and probably one of the least, Apparition concludes (most likely) its theatrical run tonight (1/2) in Brooklyn, at the Kent Theater (and its already available on iTunes).