Buyer Beware

As a horror film, this haunted-house story fails in every major way

If you look beneath the surface, some horror movies have something on their minds.

Divorce yourself from the unsightly stuff, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is making a point about capitalism, as are The Hills Have Eyes and Night of the Living Dead. Going back much further, the warnings about communist infiltration in Invasion of the Body Snatchers are none too subtle. And the teen-slasher subgenre was an open warning about drug use and casual sex. Give it away so freely, the movies warn through their faceless murderers, and you'll get what's coming to you.

So could it be that this recent spate of haunted-house movies is, even subconsciously, a reaction to the very real housing crisis? It may seem like a silly thing for Hollywood to focus on (and it makes the industry a little late to the punch), but in the next few months, House at the End of the Street, the Sundance entry V/H/S, and another Paranormal Activity will hit theaters, all on the heels of Dream House, Silent House and The Apparition.

For its part, The Apparition is incredibly uninspired. That might be in part due to its play-it-safe PG-13 rating, but this movie has larger problems than needing a bunch of profanity, more gore or a gratuitous nude scene: Not much happens for most of the film's 80-ish minutes. When it does, the staging of the shocking moments is predictable, eliminating any trace of suspense. And The Apparition features two lead characters who couldn't convince anyone they are a couple if we weren't force-fed the notion in every scene.

The film also appears to be making up its own rules about the way ghosts or spirits or whatever operate in the physical world. Did you know they can just pick someone to haunt, and that they are not confined to those spaces familiar to them? Think about that: How would they know where to go? Do they have a GPS or something? And how do they move from place to place?

Of course, if you were on the other side, Ashley Greene's house might be high on your to-haunt list. The unrealistically pretty Twilight co-star displays almost no depth as an actress, but that's not why she was hired. Indeed, her main contribution to the film is spending much of her time onscreen in her underwear.

She plays Kelly, a veterinarian whose boyfriend, Ben (Sebastian Stan), holds a pretty big secret: He used to be a ghost-hunter, like those guys on cable TV who set up cameras and high-tech devices in old houses and try to prove the existence of spirits. At one such summoning, things got out of control, forcing Ben to walk away for good. But his best friend, Patrick (Tom Felton), continued his research and unwittingly released a spirit into our world. And for some reason, that ghost wants to exact revenge on Ben.

At first, the manifestations look like something that could have been handled during a routine home inspection—problems with the alarms, lights going on and off, and the presence of a moldlike substance on the floors and walls. But soon, things get more serious: All of Kelly's clothes are tied in knots—yep, really—and all of her hangers are ... also tied in knots. They're apparently being haunted by a departed balloon artist.

Eventually, there's a real confrontation between the apparition and Ben, Kelly and Patrick; that's when writer-director Todd Lincoln finally starts to show us something. The pace quickens; the intensity reaches an appropriate level for a suspense flick; and the story begins to make a tiny bit of sense, at least by the rules of the world that exists in this film. That modest euphoria fades quickly, although Lincoln takes his biggest step in the right direction in the film's closing sequence. Of course, that's a lousy time to finally show real promise.

Greene and Stan exhibit no chemistry whatsoever. Felton, arguably the biggest star in the film thanks to his work as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series, is really misused; he's in the film's opening moments, but disappears completely for more than an hour.

The apparition leaves bread crumbs, indicating it had been in the kitchen or bedroom, but there's no reason for the film to keep its appearance a secret as long as it does. And outside of the last 15 minutes, the editing, screenplay and character motivations are sorely deficient. In other words, in every area where a horror film can make its mark, The Apparition fails.

As it was with overpriced houses at the peak of the bubble, the best advice you can get before seeing this film is: "Buyer beware."

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