Prime in the Dustbin: ‘Paranormal Farm’ (2017)

Paranormal Farm is a horrible title for a film, unless the people who own the farm have the last name Paranormal. That’s actually not a bad concept. “Hello, we’re the Paranormals, and we raise zombie horses and spectral sheep. Join us as we grill corn on the ghost cob!” While the film in review is not quite the one I envisioned, it manages to pull off at least one minor miracle. For a moment, I thought it was real.

Carl Medland is the worst ghost hunter in the UK. He doesn’t claim this. It’s not exactly a plot point. He just is. Medland released one eight minute long film of himself, shirtless in a French chateau filming ghost orbs. These are little balls of light that look like dust specks, but they aren’t. They’re ghost orbs. Because of this amazing footage, Medland is invited to visit a farm out in the English countryside. The owners are reporting poltergeist activity, increasing in severity since their daughter, Jessica, disappeared into the woods. Sure. Forget all the semi-reputable paranormal investigators out there. Don’t call Most Haunted. Call the guy who videoed himself sitting in a room full of airborne allergens.

Lucy and Darren, the owners of the farm, are salt of the earth, hardy pioneer stock. Carl asks what kind of ghostly events are occurring. Darren tells him that not only are creepy things happening inside the house, but that sometimes he sees mysterious lights out in the woods. Later, Lucy reveals that there are glow worms living in the forest. This should be the end of the mystery, right? Glow worms make light. Nope! This bioluminescent fact is never brought up again. Besides, there’s still the matter of Jessica’s spirit to contend with. Lucy and Darren head out to their pop-up camper, giving Carl the run of the house. He’s about to investigate the strange goings-on in the farmhouse in the dumbest possible ways.

Again, up until this point, I believed this movie was a documentary. I thought Carl Medland was truly doing a paranormal investigation on a farm belonging to these people, who did seem a bit off-kilter. None of the people in the film appeared to be professional actors. Carl records the entire experience on his phone; you can see his reflection in the farmhouse windows, holding the device. You can also tell by the elevated angle Instagram composition of the shots. Paranormal Farm really feels like a single dude, in way over his head, looking for a ghost.

Left alone to investigate as he pleases, Carl finds things inside the house to be stranger than expected. Every time he speaks Jessica’s name, the lights in the living room turn off. He also speaks of a disconcerting feeling in the room. Being a relative neophyte at this whole ghost hunting business, Carl eventually runs from the house, overwhelmed with terror. Collecting his thoughts in the woods, Carl gives us a recap while staring into the camera. As he speaks, a person wearing a clown mask appears out of the shadows over his shoulder. Carl screams and hightails it out of there, which is the proper response, but at that moment, the movie’s cover is blown.

Clowns.
Why did it have to be clowns?

Ever since Stephen King’s It was published in 1986, creepy clowns have been gaining ground as popular monsters. They’ve become as much a cliché as masked murders visiting summer camps. When that clown shows up, it is obvious that we have been strung along and that this is another fake found footage horror film. This is disappointing, but it is remarkable that the movie got away with the ruse as long as it did.

Things really go off the meter after this, and Paranormal Farm buries the needle in the red zone of weird twists. Have you ever seen a paranormal investigator use shaving cream as a tool? You’re gonna, if you watch this movie. You’ll even get to see Carl Medland vomit said shaving cream, and that’s a treat. He uses a plasma ball as a means of communication and says, at least twice, “She comes with electricity!” I thought that would look way different than it does in this movie.

Paranormal Farm turns on a dime from documentary to fright flick. The second half even begins to feel like a Ben Wheatley film. This in itself is not a bad thing, but the difference between Paranormal Farm and, say, Kill List, is the script. Paranormal Farm doesn’t have one. It knows what beats it needs to hit, and the basic framework of its own tale. The dialogue, though, feels totally improvised. This leads to Carl repeatedly repeating himself, while managing to gloss over or mutter important details. Some would argue this is also reminiscent of Ben Wheatley films, but at least Wheatley usually has Michael Smiley to help things along. Carl Medland has only himself, and it’s not enough.

Paranormal Farm meanders. Unnecessary time is spent setting up storylines that never resurface. A lot of your enjoyment of Paranormal Farm will depend on how much Carl Medland you can take. He’s pleasant enough, with his Mauro Ranallo haircut and delicate accent, but his investigative techniques leave a lot to be desired. I suppose that’s part of the point, though; since Carl really doesn’t know what he’s doing, he bumbles his way into discovering more than he imagined. He’s learning. One can only hope the same can be said of his filmmaking skills and that the forthcoming sequel to Paranormal Farm is more structured and free of clowns.

You don’t need an invitation to visit Paranormal Farm, which awaits you in the lush countryside of Prime Video.

 

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