Delaware filmmaker Gustave Rehnstrom directs and edits what essentially is a ghost story that mixes historical folklore with contemporary psychodrama and sci-fi intrigue.
Rehnstrom first told me about this movie back in December 2006. Rehnstrom pitched it as a ghost story, a haunted valley near the site of an alleged train crash. The story has since broadened to include much more.
Bob Connelly stars as Professor Reed who one day discovers a Civil War-era lantern at a neighborhood yard sale. How it got there is a mystery, considering where it came from, but for some reason Reed seems drawn to it.
During a class lecture, images and the presence of Civil War soldiers begin to haunt Reed.
An almost decoupage of train accidents, crashes and derailments is dangled before our eyes. When those black-and-white photos go away, our eyes are underexposed to a bleached out, slightly bluish haze of cinematography that was either shot or filtered in this depressing visual tone.
Not to say, this film is overly depressing or all bleached out and blue. No. This is only to get us through the initial haunting, which has Reed running out his lecture in fear and panic. Actions are sped up and slowed down. Union soldiers are translucently placed marching down college hallways or even opaquely placed in bathrooms.
Some explanation is proffered the next day when Reed meets with a fellow professor named Grant, played by Rodney L. Davis. Grant claims he's done research into paranormal phenomenon and he's learned of instances where inanimate objects were haunted by the memories of those who've owned them.
Grant recounts an example that is gruesome and bloody. We see glimpses of it through flashback. Rehnstrom shows us the scene. This brief interlude is as violent as the movie gets. It's not too harmful. The quick scene is almost ripped from a John Carpenter or B-movie horror flick. It's a stark distinction from the Civil War flashbacks, which are almost sepia-tone and have lines running down the screen like the way scratched film looks a la Grindhouse (2007).
The following scene, however, where Grant delivers all this exposition is perhaps too long, the poorest staged, and the poorest edited. Reed and Grant do circles around an out-of-the-way, log cabin restaurant. I figure in life people might actually do this, but it translates as boring on the screen.
Three college students are then introduced. They're students of Reed who plan on going on a field with him. A few of them are worried about Reed's mental state. Reed ran out of their lecture after seeing Civil War ghosts and Reed carries the lantern everywhere he goes like Linus from the Peanuts cartoon and his security blanket.
Visually, in this scene, you never get a proper introduction of these kids. The camerawork is either too far away or cutting them off at the neck.
Later, during the actual field trip, we get a better look and a better understanding of the students, one of whom is a total scene stealer. Drew Ramney who plays Seth initially comes off as a jerk, even after explaining how his brother was killed in Iraq. Ramney, however, has some amazing one-liners. When commenting on the mental state of Reed, Ramney says, "He's a few Cheerios short of a nutritious breakfast." Yet, as corny as that and his other jokes toward the end are, I found them refreshing.
Usually, scene-stealers aren't a good thing. We're supposed to be worrying about Reed and if he'll ever discover the truth about the lantern's mystery, but really, whenever Ramney's in the scene, we're more interested on what Ramney's going to say next. When someone who's not the star or center of the movie walks in and makes the movie all about him, that's a scene-stealer.
It might be annoying, but here it interjects some much-needed comedy into a story that would be laughable for its serious taking of ridiculousness. Not to say that the film is completely ridiculous. I did enjoy the script in certain parts. For example, the passages at the beginning and end were very moving and touching, and Rehnstrom who is a daily editor here at WBOC does a good job of cutting to those passages to accentuate the story and emotion.
Like with any independent project, time and money are scarce, but the effort here is certainly commendable.
The acting from some of the players doesn't quite deliver or made me believe in certain scenes, but they're somewhat effective. A fight between Reed and his wife as well as a dinner scene where the two try not to go into genocide or the birds-and-the-bees in front of their daughter is well played. But, a lot of the stuff at the end felt over-the-top, and some of the stuff with the soldiers felt a little melodramatic.
Reed uses the lantern as a link to what happened in the past, and a very clever idea occurs when a person from the future haunts the past, not necessarily as a time traveler but kind of like Al from the TV series Quantum Leap.
Guilt is a big theme of the movie. Sometimes that idea gets confused with regret, but essentially that bad feeling we get when we've done something that we wish we could change plays an integral role. We get the impression that our deeds can have echoes or lasting effects.
Three Stars out of Five
Unrated but some parental guidance recommended
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.