Directed by Tanzeal Rahim
Distributed by Monster Pictures
Yet again, more found footage ghost hunting comes our way in the form of Australian production Muirhouse, but this one has the boon of actually being set and filmed within “Australia’s most haunted house” – the Monte Cristo homestead.
Opening up in the documentary format, Muirhouse takes us down the rabbit hole with paranormal author Phillip Muirhouse (McDonald) as we are treated to snippets of his documentary on the haunted house and its history along with behind-the-scenes footage involving him, his crew and interviewees. With him having turned up in the first scene via police dash-cam wielding a hammer and splattered in blood, we know from the off that Muirhouse’s experience within the stately home isn’t going to end well – and this brings the first problem with the film to the fore: the setup is much too long. Most will be itching to get to the house and witness just what went down with poor Phillip to turn him into a hammer-wielding maniac, but director Rahim instead takes time to explore the history of the house, its inhabitants, and the basics of modern ghost hunting such as EVP. For those interested in historical hauntings and the workings of the ghost hunting industry, this isn’t likely to pose much of a problem – in fact, they’ll likely be highly engaged from the off – but those just looking for a scary good time are likely to start fidgeting before long.
Once the night of the shoot at the Monte Cristo arrives, circumstances with the arrival time of his crew leave Phillip breaking what has been stressed as a cardinal rule of ghost hunting – never, ever, go it alone. And then the fun starts.
Once Muirhouse steps inside the grand manor, all expectations point towards yet another disappointing shaky-cam-laden exercise in POV ghost hunting and running away. Pleasingly, director Rahim has other concerns on his mind, keeping a low-key and slow approach to Muirhouse’s investigation, populating it with off-screen bumps in the night, slamming doors and almost impenetrable darkness. Torch-lit POV sequences ramp up the tension and, in a lesser film, would each end with a ghostly encounter and screaming pursuit. Here, however, Rahim is content to let us simply wander the halls of the Monte Cristo with the knowledge that something very bad resides there. It becomes more concerned with what doesn’t happen than what does, grasping tight with every moment and refusing the relief of a formulaic scare. It’s perfectly placed restraint which gives life to a consistent, and overbearing, tension populating every minute of Phillip Muirhouse’s time inside Monte Cristo.
This level of constant, and oppressive, unseen malevolence recalls Gustavo Hernández’s La Casa Muda and, true to the form of Hernández’s flick, Muirhouse also regretfully falls apart with its ending. Just how Phillip Muirhouse came to be staggering down the street covered in blood and wielding a hammer is never explained – nor are the potential crimes that he must have committed with said hammer in order to end up in that state. Snippets of dialogue in the beginning and over the end credits offer something to piece together, but it’s much more messy and unfulfilling than necessary.
While lead P.F. McDonald carries the film well as the eponymous author but the star of the show here is easily the Monte Cristo itself. Still impeccably furnished and well maintained to this day, it’s a ghost hunter’s nirvana that simply bleeds unease from every doorway. As a character, Muirhouse himself is refreshingly level-headed when faced with evidence of the paranormal, rarely making any truly dumb decisions (besides the initial choice to go investigating on his own) but instead being forced into a corner by the ghostly inhabitants at almost every turn. The first grand encounter which sees him turning tail and legging it straight out of the front door and half way across the grounds feels as natural a reaction as any of us would have, ghost hunter or not.
Regardless of the sour taste in the finish and the overly long setup, Muirhouse remains a well above average entry into the genre. Inside the Monte Cristo the tension is relentless, so turn off the lights, crank up the sound and prepare to be scared.
Monster Pictures’ DVD release of Muirhouse is well presented, but would have benefitted greatly with a 5.1 audio track to really place those bangs and creaks (the screener contained only a stereo track, whether the retail release has more options is unknown) . On the special features front, we have two separate commentary tracks – one with director Tanzeal Rahim and the other lead actor P.F. McDonald. Both are certainly worth a listen, offering a different perspective on the film and plenty of discussion of their experiences shooting inside the Monte Cristo, though disappointingly Rahim fails to expand on the questions left hanging by his choice of ending – focussing more on the technical side of pulling off the finale. Alongside the commentaries we have the trailer for the film, and an hour long documentary/show by “The Spirit Level” as they lead their own investigation into the Monte Cristo. Fans of the various paranormal investigation television shows will eat it up for sure.
3 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5