Over the next few weeks, our writer in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies from the festival.
Overview: A look behind the scenes at the enormously popular haunted house attraction, Spookers. Madman Production Company; 2017; Rated-M; 90 mins
New Zealand: It would seem that the popularity of last year’s Tickled has led to an interest in some of the more esoteric aspects of New Zealand culture. At Miff this year, two of the hot tickets were Pecking Order and Spookers, both documentaries that looked at interesting Kiwis and their interesting interests. Unlike Tickled, though, there is no seedy underbelly with these stories. They are simply documents looking at the proclivities of our friends to the south.
Spookers, for those who don’t know, is a haunted house experience 45 minutes outside of Auckland in New Zealand. It is housed inside a former psychiatric hospital and spreads out into the grounds, which have been converted into a hedge maze and the Freaky Forest. Within the house, actors dressed up as serial killers, zombies, ghosts, murderous nurses, the possessed, and clowns, jump out at you, chase you, scream at you, and basically cause you to, in some cases literally, shit yourself.
Story: I tend to find with documentaries that they either follow the route of telling a story building up to something like a competition, a court verdict, or a performance or they are taking an event and reacting to it: showing us the effect at the top and then tracing the cause. In either type, there is a story to tell. With Spookers that is not really the case. We get a brief history of the attraction from the founders but we spend most of our time with some of the performers as they are interviewed and discuss their dreams, which are acted out by the Spookers staff, or talk about how they found their way to working at Spookers and how it helped them overcome something. There is a small hint that the documentary is going into much more serious territory when a former nurse and former patient of the mental hospital where Spookers now sits are interviewed, but, even though they make a very interesting point about setting a haunted house full of ‘crazy’ people in a former psychiatric hospital could help bolster the misconception that the mentally ill are something to be feared and avoided, they are never the centre of the story.
Overall: The main takeaway from Spookers is how much it made me want to go to Spookers and see it for myself. If the movie was intended to simply be a commercial for the attraction then mission accomplished, as before the movie was over I was already looking up ticket prices (as I write this I’m actually preparing for a business trip to Auckland next week). The movie also manages to show us how fascinating the performers are behind the makeup. They are interesting, eccentric people who have managed to find something at Spookers and amongst their Spooker families. There is no central story to Spookers, but as a document of a particular place and some particular people, it is a glimpse behind the curtain that makes you want to see more.
Featured Image: Madman Entertainment