Who says horror can’t be the cinema of personal expression? Director Tim Sullivan follows up his comic horror 2001 Maniacs with this heartfelt ghost story. Raviv Ullman plays David, a teenager whose depression and death-fixation following the demise of his older brother prompts his desperate parents to ship him off to an “Attitude Adjustment Camp.” Basically a brutal cross between boot camp and prison, this is a private institution (inspired by actual places) designed to transform any insipient Columbine-copycats. Once there, David must contend not only with the sadistic Captain Kennedy (Diamond Dallas Page) who runs the place, but also with visions of a ghost who clearly wants a buried truth revealed.
There’s more than a touch of The Devil’s Backbone here, what with the ghost-story-in-an-institution premise and the emphatic socio-political overtones. Sullivan isn’t quite Guillermo Del Toro yet – the spookiness is workmanlike but hardly heart-pounding, and many of the adult performances are pitched far too broadly – but there is a seriousness of purpose here that is admirable, a refreshing (and justified) anger, and the teen members of the cast are believably natural.
Quite the range of options here, what with 5.1, DTS and 2.0. There isn’t a world of difference between the first two, though there might be a bit more heft to the DTS. Either way, there is a terrific sense of environment and a good, big, startling score. Dialogue is perfectly crisp and free of distortion. All in all, a great deal of the film’s atmosphere is built on the sound design, and said sound design is well handled on the mix.
This, too, is nicely done. The colours during the daylight, exterior scenes are very naturalistic, while the night sequences are suitably gothic with terrific contrasts and blacks. The image is sharp, and the grain is minimal, if anything adding to the almost 70’s-style grit of the exteriors. It’s a handsome transfer in a suitably grungy way.
Quite a bit here. Sullivan contributes two commentary tracks, one shared with producer and co-writer Chris Kobin, and the other with Page. The focus is sufficiently different between the two to justify both tracks. There are two making-of featurettes, one of which thoughtfully sports a spoiler warning before unspooling. The nine deleted and extended scenes have yet another (optional) commentary track. Rounding things out are a photo gallery, an audition real, the trailer, and a blooper that was, I suppose, hilarious if you were there.
While I wouldn’t call this a new ghost story classic, it is so nice, in this day of endless spin-offs, rip-offs, sequels and remakes to see a horror film with real passion.