When we saw that Sheffield Doc Fest were hosting an immersive screening of Spookers, a documentary focusing on New Zealand’s only (apparently) haunted house plus they were putting on a VR/live action event the next day that came with a warning that it could be distressing, we looked into making a quick trip north. Cheap train tickets plus accommodation sealed the deal so up we went! Sadly the VR event ended up being cancelled but we still made it to Sheffield for the Spookers screening!
Whilst the Spookers screening contained a mini-haunt, it was definitely just a finishing touch rather than being a substantial event. Despite that, for the space that they had, it was stupidly well themed and full of actors. It was as if they knew this experience was going to last a minute tops so they just jammed as much in as possible. It won’t change the world but I doubt that was ever the intention, it was just a way of giving the audience a chance to experience the subject of the movie that followed. And after watching the film, we appreciated how closely the mini-haunt hewed to the actual Spookers event, showcasing their characters rather than just chucking in something generic. It supplemented the film fantastically well.
As for the film, we feel it was less successful simply because the narrative seemed to jump around a bit, not really finding its focus until the second half.
It begins as you’d expect, offering a quick taste of what’s inside the haunt before settling down to spend some time with the owners and key cast. Where it then lost us was that it decided to tackle the controversial subject of the haunt operating out of a closed asylum.
It’s definitely a touchy subject but here’s our view on it – the building was closed and these guys needed somewhere that had adequate space, something that this site could offer. We then get interviews with an ex-nurse and, separately, an ex-patient of the asylum who both come across as condemning this practice, the patient moreso.
However, the film never turns around and puts these concerns to the owners and, saving one or two mentions, doesn’t really ever tell you to what extent Spookers exploit their location. Our personal sense was that if they do, it’s light touch. You see a few signs at the entrances to some of the haunts and none of them suggest asylum-themed stories. A lot of time is spent looking at the corn maze that they run, again, with no identifiable links to their location or mental health.
The issue we have with this presentation is that we’re left to draw our own conclusions on how inappropriate their choice of location is. Without explicitly demonstrating that the event does take liberties, we have to assume that it doesn’t as surely this is the natural follow on from those interviews? Showing an actress playing a nurse is ambiguous as that does not necessarily have to relate back to mental health. And if Spookers are inconsiderate to this very real and serious issue, why aren’t the creators implicitly confronted about this?
The reason that section irks us is due to the real world impacts that we’ve seen. In the UK, Thorpe Park faced the brunt of this topic and eventually closed a haunt because of it. Elsewhere, Knotts Scary Farm introduced a new for 2016 VR attraction which closed down almost instantly because of references to mental health. Whether that’s the right thing to do or not is debatable – where do we draw the line at censorship? But if you’re going to raise the subject in the film, you at least need to give both sides equal say or a dangerous precedent is set. People may have left that screening with the ex-patient’s words ringing in their heads. Especially given that her interview was definitely one of the more impactful moments of the film. Without the counter, it’s allowing people to leave the cinema with those views unchallenged and potentially take a dimmer view on the attraction as a result.
It’s also an interesting choice to interview these people in isolation considering that they reference the Spookers event – we don’t actually know if they’ve ever been through the attraction or, at the very least, have knowledge of the content before providing views on its location. We just worry that horror is a controversial subject by its very nature and, by being light touch with confronting this issue, it leaves the Spookers event open to criticism.
This is then especially at odds with the second half where the film finally decides that its spine is the eclectic cast who all come to the show with their own issues, finding some sort of family and escape by performing in Spookers. Here the film celebrates the good that the attraction does and the extent to which the owners care about their staff.
Ultimately, the film comes across as the filmmaker’s personal journey making the movie. From an initial curiosity to dubiousness before finally falling in love with everyone that strives to make Spookers the event that it is.
It’s nice to see scare attractions prove to be an enticing subject for documentarians. As our Fright Flicks series progresses, you’ll see just how many documentaries exist and how varied in subject they all are.
It’s also good to see a haunt documentary that isn’t set in the US!
As already mentioned, the mental health subject is way too much of a hot potato to pick up and then discard. The frustrating thing from our point of view is that it’s an easy fix with five minutes dealing with direct questions to the owners around the issue.
The narrative was also slightly scattershot, especially in the first half when the film was still trying to decide what its story was.
Spookers Fright Night (2017)
We really enjoyed the live action element of this event, short though it was, especially owing to the fact that they used the characters from the actual haunt. It was a great idea and well executed! The film, whilst still being entertaining was less successful but, overall, it was a good evening!
Ticket Price: £10
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