SXSW 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. How about a modern day version of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) leaning heavily into our social media world? Co-writers and co-directors Joseph Winter and Vanessa Winter include touches of the multitude of Ghost Hunter-type TV shows while blending humor with a heavy dose of make-up, especially in the film’s second half.

Joseph Winter stars in his film as Shawn Ruddy, a recently disgraced You-Tuber known for dumb pranks (in the mode of Johnny Knoxville) for his show, “Wrath of Shawn.” In an effort to redeem his reputation, Shawn plans to live-stream his overnight in a dilapidated haunted in house in Utah. Built in 1880, it’s known as ‘Death Manor’ due to the history of many deaths that have occurred within its walls. Shawn believes this will make great live content since he’s deathly afraid of ghosts.

The set-up and first half of the film are excellent and a lot of fun. We get to know Shawn for what he is, including his effeminate screams of terror as things go bump in the night … and even sometimes when they don’t. Some of the best moments happen as he reads the viewer comments alongside his live stream. Just when it starts to drag a bit, Shawn’s plan is upended by Chrissy (a terrific Melanie Stone), who claims to be a superfan. She brings a jolt of energy and immediately shifts the tone.

The best horror films employ a setting that takes on a role of its own, and ‘Death Manor’ is perfectly trippy to explore via GoPro and flashlight. The legend of Mildred collecting souls makes for an enticing legend, but the film’s second half goes over-the-top, despite the most creative use of beef jerky and duct tape that you’ll likely see in any movie. It just seems a bit too long, though lovers of midnight movies will appreciate the mixture of comedy and horror.

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