Creepy things attract curious people. This is how Isaac Rodriguez packaged his latest found footage offering A Town Full of Ghosts at first glance. The idea of interrupting the creepy seclusion and quietness of a deserted place just excites the inner adventurers among us all. Historical tourist spots alone are proof that we are suckers for the stories behind the dusty and rusty. But with FF films such as As Above, So Below (2014), Grave Encounters (2011), and Savageland (2015), places of enigma excite us more than the present ones.
A Town Full of Ghosts rides on the quest of a couple pursuing a ghost town. Mark and his wife Jenna sold everything to purchase and invest in reinventing a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. The abandoned town itself is enough to sell the film, and our anticipation of its mystery makes us expectant for more. But regardless of its promise of a macabre sense of adventure, A Town Full of Ghosts fails to deliver.
One of the main reasons why the film doesn’t pan out as planned is its deviation from its conceit. The videos are supposed to be raw footage intended to supplement Mark’s Youtube vlogs, which rationalizes its voyeuristic tendencies that are unlikely to make the final cut. However, the director/writer, who already finessed his style with Deadware (2021) and Last Radio Call (2021), seems unconfident this time around. He mires the whole film, which is supposed to be bare and unadulterated, with unnecessary editing and ill-matched sound effects to amplify the horror. The uninspired use of found footage treatment further mars its good intentions.
And when the treatment fails to get the job done, the rest hinges on the story. Too bad because the latter didn’t do so much to salvage the film. The film had a tolerable run during its first half, but instead of becoming invested in the horrors of the place, we get become intrigued by how Jenna reacts to her husband’s impulsiveness. Although it might seem like a good thing, it dampens the significance of the ghost town. And talking about underutilizing what’s in front of them… the second half couldn’t care less.
The most exhilarating part of disturbing abandoned places is the discovery. It’s a deserted place sleeping secluded from modernity, so you expect too much prying, especially from the protagonist sketched as “obsessive and compulsive” by the film. Curiosity and a rabbit hole are a perfect match. But again, A Town misplaces its energy and ruins a potential investigative story with a bland, abrupt, and inapt “found footage within a found footage” scene that seems to sum all the mysteries seeping through the dusty, forgotten town. Obviously, it’s a rushed attempt that may or may not be a casualty of its runtime.
Most well-known found footage films clock at a reasonable hour and a half to comprise the story and character development concerning the limitations of the found footage treatment. The film has a short runtime, an hour and five, to comprise the madness that goes down in the place. It is reasonable, especially if the film had stuck to what it’s supposed to be. But the film had to be ambitious with its indistinct direction and convoluted twist so that everything just goes by without us caring so much.
The twist might be the most upsetting bit of the film. A Town doesn’t shy away from The Shining undertones, from the couple’s isolation from civilization, resurfacing family issues, and morbid use of ax, to the lodging in a haunted secluded place and the ragged maze (which is probably the only good thing about the film). The Stanley Kubrick horror prides itself on its unnerving display of one’s descent into madness because everything’s calculated, well-paced, and patiently moved to fruition. A Town fails to do so much because nothing builds up to its crooked turn of events. It’s a vapid effort that only caters to the director’s idea of morbidity, unbothered by the audiences’ expectancy for a sensible and tolerable plot.
It has its moments, but all of those are from their exploration inside the eerie wooden maze. All the jumpy shots and shockers are from the unpredictable turns and passage edges. Although they come as predictable, one would definitely want to see the end of it because they suffice the film’s unsuccessful attempts to satisfy our craving for a thrill. There’s a scene where the drone’s roving above the maze to navigate for Mark. It’s an admirable gimmick, and the discovery from the drone will make you wish that the film had strived for this type of grotesque.
Found footage films take a great amount of effort to make things work. It is essential that the found footage treatment is not taken for granted to preserve its believability and spark artistry from filmmakers who aspire to work on such a medium. Rodriguez is a burgeoning star in the horror landscape, and his exploration of the subgenre is highly commendable. However, A Town Full of Ghosts isn’t his best effort and probably his most forgettable one.
I am a 4th year Journalism student from the Polytechnic University of the Philipines and an aspiring Filmmaker. I fancy found footage, home invasion, and gore films. Randomly unearthing good films is my third favorite thing in life. The second and first are suspending disbelief and my girlfriend.