Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Rissa Walters, Brian Comrie, Dan Comrie, Rick Comrie, Jane Harris, Dakota Jade
Directed by Lisa Comrie
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Months ago I was checking the website for a local movie theater looking up movie times for 30 Days of Night (review) when I came across a listing for another horror-themed film (though PG-rated) I’d never heard of opening this weekend called Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour. I went to look it up online and came across precious little info; even the film’s official website provided only vague details. Rotten Tomatoes informed me that the movie wasn’t being screened for critics. I sent Johnny Butane an e-mail about it and even he was as clueless as I was, having also never heard of the film. Talk about a film totally flying in under the radar. Where did this movie come from? Who knows? Now however it is home.
Now judging by the film’s Harry Potter-inspired title and presumptuous tagline declaring “It’s the first in the series of Sarah Landon mysteries,” I naturally assumed the movie was an adaptation of some teen book series I’d never heard of. I assumed wrong.
Sarah Landon, her paranormal hour, and her many promised mysteries to come are the original creation of the Comrie family. Best I can figure from doing a little digging around online, the Comries are a well-to-do family from the San Diego area that have decided to get their feet wet in the world of cinema. Sarah Landon & the Paranormal Hour was directed by Lisa Comrie, who co-wrote the script with her husband, Phil, and three of their sons co-star. I can only assume that Mr. & Mrs. Comrie have no teenage daughters, thus explaining why newcomer Rissa Walters (nice to see a teen actress who doesn’t look like an emaciated, lollypop-headed, painted-up trollop for a change) landed the title role instead of a girl with the last name Comrie. Or it could have been because the lead heroine has a romance with a character played by one of the sons and having a brother and sister making out on film could prove quite awkward in the long run.
The long and short of the hopelessly half-baked story has seventeen-year old Sarah Landon taking a road trip back to her childhood small town of Pine Valley (insert your own “All My Children” joke here) following the death of her best friend forever, Megan. Once there, everyone she meets takes turns telling her the story of the town’s dark secret. Thirteen years earlier, local baseball superstar Johnny Woods was killed in an auto accident when the woman driving the car he was in swerved to avoid a cat and hit a pole. His enraged father, Ben Woods, showed up at the woman’s doorstep and demanded an eye for an eye, vowing that her own little boy, David, would die on his 21st birthday.
Now this was an auto accident that any normal human being would have accepted as being just a tragic accident, but because Ben Woods was a scary man, he vowed supernatural vengeance to come thirteen years later against an innocent boy. Any time anyone in Pine Valley mentions the name Ben Woods, they start talking about what a horrible human being he was, but aside from demanding the life of a young boy some thirteen years later, the script kind of forgot to include any reason to believe Ben Woods was a scary, hateful human being, the sort of man who would come calling for the life of another as some sort of divine retribution, outside of hiring an actor to play the part who kind of looked like a scary redneck with bad teeth.
Ben Woods would himself be found dead on the day of Johnny’s funeral. Soon afterwards, David’s mom began seeing Ben’s ghost and experiencing other supernatural happenings until it reached the point that she suffered a debilitating nervous breakdown.
David grew up paranoid from it all and, after being spooked by a newspaper horoscope on his 20th birthday, became a social hermit of sorts, devoting every waking moment to reading up on the supernatural and working on a documentary chronicling what he believes will be the last year of his life unless he comes up with some way to stop his own demise. He doesn’t know if Ben Woods will somehow kill him in ghost form or by taking possession of someone or if perhaps he has already been reincarnated and his reborn self will do the deed, such as the suspicious eleven-year old kid named Justin who suddenly begins hanging out around David’s fortress of solitude. The only thing David and his perpetual week-old facial stubble are positive about is that Ben Woods is going to kill him on his 21st birthday sometime between midnight and 1AM – the witching hour AKA the paranormal hour. He’ll need to hurry to because his 21st birthday is about three days away.
They should have called the movie Sarah Landon & the Neverending Flashbacks. Her car breaks down on the way; she meets a local mechanic and he doesn’t hesitate to start telling her the first parts of the backstory. She gets to the home of Megan’s grandmother, Miss Shaw, whom she’ll be staying with in Pine Valley, and the old bird also wastes no time filling her in on even more of the backstory. Then she’ll meet up with and begin making goo-goo eyes at David’s blonder kid brother, Matt, and he’ll proceed to fill her in on all the more recent parts of the backstory. Even when you think a flashback is over because they’ve cut back to Sarah and whoever is telling it to her at the time, give it a few moments and we’ll be off to another piece of the flashback. It became unintentionally comical after a while and, yes, I started checking my watch in order to clock it. This process goes on – swear to god – for over a half hour. Pretty much the entire first act of the film is devoted to flashbacks, flashbacks, flashbacks. And here I thought Dragon Wars was bad when it came to piling on backstory.
I won’t delve into the stuff regarding the psychic David’s mom consulted or the Spanish-speaking relative of that now-dead psychic who keeps calling David from Tijuana with ominous warnings that have been passed along to her from beyond the grave.
So how does Sarah Landon fit into all of this aside from being the vessel by which the screenplay uses to relay the backstory to us? Well, to be honest, she doesn’t do much. Even though her name is part of the extended title, Sarah Landon really doesn’t do a damn thing in her own movie. Even during the climax she’s more a spectator than active participant. The story is primarily a showcase for the actors playing the two brothers at the heart of the plot. What a shock given the actors playing them both share the last name Comrie. Given the last name of the filmmakers and the last name of the actors playing the two characters who actually eclipse the role of the supposedly title character whose name is even in the title of the movie for gosh sake gives the whole production the stink of some kind of misguided vanity project.
Not only is she practically relegated to third wheel status behind the two brothers, Sarah Landon is a character with no character of her own, no real personality outside of smiling and giggling. She’s old enough to drive to strange towns on her own yet she seems to have the mental state of bubbly 14-year old. Nancy Drew, Sarah Landon most definitely is not. While I’m at it, the two Comrie brothers, both of whom look like they were bred in a CW Network genetics laboratory, don’t make for very good Hardy Boys substitutions either.
It’s nice that someone set out to make a perfectly harmless fright flick for the whole family, but for goodness sake, could they have tried just a little harder to make something that at the very least achieved a minimum “Goosebumps” level of thrills and chills? I can’t say I was ever totally bored but that doesn’t mean I was all that entertained. Inoffensive entertainment is one thing (I suspect a single use of the word “ass” may have been the reason it didn’t get saddled with a G-rating), but the scare quotient is barely there even for a kiddy flick. Sarah Landon & the Paranormal Hour is so bland that calling it vanilla would indicate it has more flavor than it actually does.
My biggest source of amusement came with the disbelief that that I was actually watching this movie in a multiplex. Heck, I still can’t believe I was watched this film in 2007, no less. Saccharine content packaged in a cheap-looking production that even boasts grainy footage at times, this looked and felt like a movie I would have seen in the earliest years of my childhood, most likely a syndicated television rebroadcast of a low budget movie made 10-15 years before I was ever born. Think the worst of modern low budget Christian filmmaking but without the Christian part and you should get the idea. How the hell did this get into theaters?
Okay, I confess; I was also rather amused by the finale too – just for all the wrong reasons. The quite laughable climax features an old lady in her nightgown running around with a huge shotgun and a guy wearing a purple robe and a rubber hobo Halloween mask sitting in a plastic lawn chair surrounded by a circle of candlelit turnips. I must have missed something because I have no idea how the rubber hobo mask was supposed to help ward off an evil spirit. Topping it all off… Let me throw up a spoiler alert for those of you who don’t want the ending to this Sarah Landon non-mystery ruined. You know who you are even if I don’t.
Possessed by Ben Woods’ angry spirit, old Miss Shaw is about to shotgun David when young Justin rides up on his bike and, in Johnny’s voice, tells his daddy to stop because it was just an accident. Upon hearing this, Ben Woods, who has schemed for thirteen years to exact revenge from beyond the grave for his son’s accidental death, immediately drops the shotgun; his spirit exits Miss Shaw’s body, and then walks off into oblivion. It all wraps up neat and tidy in about 45-seconds. Justin then suddenly goes back to himself, wonders briefly as to where he is, and then rides off like nothing happened. The brothers’ mom magically awakens from her near vegetative state all smiley and happy and huggy to boot. Everyone lives happily ever after. Sarah Landon’s role in all of this is little more than that of an eyewitness.
The movie even dares to wrap up with Sarah Landon driving away while she tells us in voiceover that this wouldn’t be her last encounter with the supernatural. Really? What is she going to do in the proposed sequels; go someplace else where something supernatural is occurring and meet up with new characters (probably played by the same actors with the last name Comrie) who contribute more to the events of the story than she does? Sarah Landon & the Paranormal Hour is like doing a Harry Potter tale where Harry’s role in it all is about on par with, say, Neville Longbottom’s.
Oh, and all the stuff about Sarah’s deceased friend that also resulted in more visions and nightmares and further signs of something supernatural at work; nothing ever comes of any of it. Either it was all one of the lamest red herrings in recent memory or just another example of the “quality” storytelling at work.
The Comries may have made this movie to appeal to the tweener audience, predominantly teenage girls, but I’d be shocked if it clicked with that crowd. The film is so timid, so old fashioned, and has so little going on that the only people it seems to me like its going to appeal to are elderly folk who complain about movies today being too dirty for their tastes. I think that theory was already proven true when I saw this film aimed at kids and teens on opening day afternoon with an audience of only three other people and I was not only the youngest person in the theater, I was the only person in the theater who wasn’t collecting social security.
As for extras on the DVD we have one — Frida’s Psychic Readings Game. Basically all you do is ask a yes or no question out loud and then click the “Ask Frida” option. One of this film’s bit players will answer your question with less depth than a Magic 8-Ball.
I know this is being touted as the start of a franchise, but I strongly suspect that Sarah Landon’s fifteen minutes of fame will only consist of a single paranormal hour.
2 out of 5
1/2 out of 5
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