Sunday, April 7, 2013

SyFy vs. the Mynd: Ghost Storm (2011)

I have generally been rather negative around here about the quality of the TV movies the US SyFy Channel churns out, but if there's one thing I've learned in my years as admirer of movies other people would poke their eyes out not to watch, it's that you can't judge the output of a whole line of cheap movies by the half dozen unwatchable turds you've encountered. In fact, there's always the chance those movies you hated so much will be an outlier, and movies about swamp sharks and chupacabras attacking the Alamo will turn out to be hidden gems. The only way to find out is to dive in, which I will do in this new irregular series on The Horror!?. 

A small island community off what horror movie rules lead me to assume to be the coast of New England hits the PK jackpot when a lightning strikes the monument to the victims of a cult mass suicide of a hundred years ago. The ghosts of the cult members turn into a storm of ghostly and malevolent energy that likes to turn its living victims to dust. The storm also loves to play games with electronic devices, because ghosts are electricity, or something. Despite local sheriff Hal Miller's (Carlos Bernard) attempts to call in help from the mainland, the islanders will have to fight the supernatural threat off on their own, that is, when they don't begin to panic and fight among themselves.

Fortunately, Hal, his meteorologist ex-wife Ashley (Crystal Allen) and their teenage daughter Daisy (Cindy Busbay) are - with some assistance by roaming paranormal investigator Greg Goropolis (Aaron Douglas) - quite good at fighting ghost storms with the power of absurd science and duct tape.

Ghost Storm, a film directed and written by Paul Ziller who has threatened the world in cost-conscious ways in many a film for the SyFy Channel, is pretty much a perfect film in the old low budget movie tradition, at least if you have a sense of fun, can accept dubious science when it's presented right (and really, if you can't, why are you watching movies like this?), and are willing to accept that a small TV movie like Ghost Storm won't look like a Michael Bay production (and seriously, if you want films to look like that, why are you watching movies at all?).

If that sounds like your style, just let me count the ways in which Ghost Storm will thank you for it in practical bullet point form:

  • Carlos Bernard isn't just pretty good at this sort of thing, but is also allowed to play a horror disaster movie small town sheriff (that's a real term, right?) who actually seems competent. He calls for help as soon as he sees he's outclassed, and when help can't come, most of his actions make sense for a guy in his position and nearly non-existent resources. It's nice to root for the male lead in a movie like this for a change instead of just tolerating him.
  • Cindy Busby as the Millers' teenage daughter is perfectly un-annoying, does some simple yet effective girl detective work, and isn't just in the movie to be rescued by her parents, because she can actually take care of herself rather well. Plus, in this film's idea of positive family values, all members of a family are able and allowed to rescue each other.
  • The film starts out swinging, with the first ghost storm victim suffering his fate during the first five minutes, and things really not letting up afterwards. There's also a nice sense of escalation to the proceedings, at least as far as the budget allows.
  • Ziller is experienced enough in this sort of thing to know very well what his budget allows and what it doesn't allow him to do, and limits his film to the things it actually can achieve well, with neither moments where he oversteps the film's possibilities, nor moments of the The Asylum school of "It's a bad movie, so we don't have to make an effort". In the same vein, Ziller's script uses clichés (and a few parts of John Carpenter's original The Fog) but never becomes a cliché itself.
  • There's also no pseudo-ironic comic relief here. Ghost Storm takes its silly basic idea and runs with it and its pseudo-science with a perfectly straight face, which is the kind of facial expression I want from my low budget horror films unless their humour is exceptionally clever.
  • The CG effects are - unlike what I often think and write about these films - perfectly fine, which probably goes to show that there should be more cheap movies with CGI that doesn't try to imitate something corporeal. Fog tentacles and fake storms is where it's at.
  • For a film about a supernatural threat, Ghost Storm shows little faith in supernatural solutions. Instead, a combination of (surprisingly un-annoying) scrappy human spirit, made-up practical movie science, and duct tape wins the day. The film's belief in duct tape is particularly strong.

All this, ladies and gentlemen are clear signs of a low budget movie going out of its way to be as entertaining as it can be. I for one, I'm happy with this Ghost Storm.

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