Friday, September 15, 2017

Against the Night: What Happens in Holmesburg Prison

You’d think a perfectly good prison would be the last thing the city of Philadelphia would leave sitting around unused. It is not like they don’t have a need for it, but Holmesburg Prison’s checkered past (riots, biological testing) just made its continued operation problematically controversial. It is still there. Given what went down, it sounds like the perfect place for an aspiring reality TV creep to film a spec ghost-hunting encounter, but it is the absolutely last place drunk college students should be horsing around. Strange, unexplained things will go on behind Holmesburg’s bars in Brian Cavallaro’s Against the Night (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

Obviously, the night turned out badly, because the movie starts with the sole survivor telling her story to Philly’s least intuitive flatfoot. (I don’t remember which one she was, but does it really matter?) In any event, the gratingly obnoxious Sean convinces his pals to let him film them stumbling around Holmesburg looking for ghosts. Of course, the jerkweed pre-planned a lot of mean tricks to play with their heads. It also leaves them in a heightened disadvantage when whatever haunts those halls starts picking them off one by one.

At first, the unknown agency is supernatural. Than its human, but Cavallaro inevitably starts dropping hints it is uncanny after all. This time around, the is-it-or-isn’t-it tango just tries our patience. However, what Against has going for it, it has in spades: a massively sinister real-life location and some hugely creepy set dressing. Holmesburg might just be the creepiest movie setting ever, perhaps even more than Grave Encounters’ Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital (a.k.a. Riverview Hospital in BC). However, the Vicious Brothers displayed a far greater command of horror movie mechanics and a masterful control of the eerie vibe. Instead of being scared by Against, we just scope out spooky trappings while we wait for it to catch up with the wrap-around segments.

Tim Torre’s Sean is hugely annoying, but at least we can remember him. Everybody else blurs together, except for Frank Whaley playing the interviewing cop in a cameo he probably already forgot. Holmesburg is such a cool spot for a horror movie freak-out, it is a shame the execution of Against is so workaday and ho-hum. Genre diehards will appreciate the guided tour, but there are plenty of superior haunted/infested asylum movies out there. For Holmesburg “fans,” Against the Night opens today (9/15) in LA, at the Arena Cinema.