In 2007 Phillip Muirhouse (Iain P.F. McDonald) was on a promotional tour to launch his book on supernatural phenomena, 'The Dead Country'. His publishers scheduled for the author to be filmed inside a local tourist trap, The Monte Cristo Homestead, known as 'the most haunted house in Australia'. As part of a publicity stunt, he planned to stay inside the house for one night. The events, which took place, were recorded in real time on audio devices and high tech motion-activated cameras. By morning three people were found dead. Muirhouse was later found by police staggering along a country lane covered in blood.
The creators of The Blair Witch Project have a lot to answer for. Their 'found footage,’ faux documentary technique spawned dozens of imitators, most successfully with the Paranormal Activity franchise and Cloverfield.
Perhaps the making of the film was a good deal scarier than actually watching it.
But many of these micro-budgeted knock-offs failed to deliver, a category in which Australian ghost story Muirhouse firmly belongs together with the likes of The Devil Inside.
The debut feature by writer-director Tanzeal Rahim and The Media Collective, it lacks one requisite ingredient: shock value. Instead we have a slow-moving, dull movie that seems much longer than its 77 minutes.
It’s set in the Victorian-era Monte Cristo Homestead in Junee in rural NSW, reputedly Australia’s most haunted house which has hosted tours for many years. The flimsy plot follows author and self-styled ghost hunter Phillip Muirhouse (Iain PF McDonald) as he prepares to film a documentary to accompany his latest book, The Dead Country.
In the opening scene Muirhouse is spotted by the cops as he staggers bare-chested and bleeding along a country road. He lunges at the cops, who subdue him.
That’s promising, but the lead-up to whatever happened in the house is tediously drawn-out. Muirhouse describes the homestead’s history, does a radio interview and talks to his editor, while a paranormal expert (Steve Lynch) sets out the rules for such investigations.
Steve advises that one should always respect ghosts and spirits because 'they were once people and still are, for that matter." He recommends helpfully, 'Never tease, dare or threaten an entity.' Another edict is 'Never seek out an entity on your own."
Muirhouse, of course, is destined to foolishly disregard the latter rule, perhaps because, as he blithely assures the radio announcer, 'I don’t scare. In my opinion we don’t have anything to fear from the dead."
Once inside the house and alone, he sets up cameras in each room and wanders around with a hand-held camera, regaling viewers with ghoulish stories of where and how the original owners, the Crawleys, died, a pregnant maid who was thrown off a balcony (Why and by whom? Phillip doesn’t say) and a cat being tortured.
Thereafter there’s a bare modicum of suspense as things go bump in the night and, well, it’s clear he is not alone. McDonald isn’t called on to do a lot except deliver a lot of expositionary dialogue, then swear and scream.
During filming, Rahim says he spotted the ghost of Mr Crawley standing in the doorway of his bedroom, an actress saw the ghost of Mrs Crawley standing behind him, and lights appeared and disappeared.
So perhaps the making of the film was a good deal scarier than actually watching it.
Anyone who wants to see a genuinely spooky and well-crafted Australian supernatural thriller is advised to check out The Tunnel on DVD or pay TV.