A professional team of ghost hunters are summoned to investigate a series of hauntings taking place within an old village hall. To the team, it is your run-of-the-mill haunting, one in which they’ve tackled many times before, and therefore will be able to overcome again.
Very quickly, however, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary haunting – something much more sinister is lurking within its walls, and the team must use every trick in the book to escape the horror of the hall.
Paranormal entities seem to be the highlight of the horror franchise these days. You can’t turn around without seeing a new film being released with some kind of ghost causing mayhem in some way or another. The main reason being – ghosts and demons are unpredictable. You really can’t expect a ghost to behave in a certain way, and that’s simply because there is no proof that they even exist. It seems, however, there is a certain pattern within these movies, and the more directors insist on rinsing the notion of idealistic ghostly behaviourisms, frankly, you can’t blame audiences for starting to grow a little bored with what they’re watching.
This is exactly what sets Judas Ghost apart from a lot of other ghost stories. Because the central characters are professional ghost hunters, the movie wastes no time in showing us the journey that brings them to believing in the paranormal, which means the horror can kick in more or less straight from the get go. We are introduced to Jerry Mackay (played by Martin Delaney), the cocky, seemingly-fearless leader of the team, and Anna Gilmour (played by Lucy Cudden), and we are instantly drawn to them because of the existing connection between the characters. There is a scene in which Jerry hands Anna a flower, which she responds by placing the flower onto Jerry’s jacket. This simple act tells us all we need to know about these particular characters – something exists between them, and it hasn’t played out the way either of them hoped. What I really liked about this is it doesn’t over-do it with either romantic or platonic gimmicks to force their relationship down the audience’s throat. It leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks, but it also gives them a reason to want these particular characters to survive. We are rooting for them to live through whatever is about to happen, instantly building a rapport between character and audience.
One of the strongest aspects of this film is the way the paranormal is instigated almost instantly, and to the extent that we’re not sat waiting for something a little more exciting to happen. Of course, you have the usual tactics of objects being smashed spontaneously, and a creepy piano being played on its own (been there, seen that), but there is also some very original ways in which the team are haunted by whatever is lurking in the walls. The exit door keeps moving, if not vanishing completely, for one. I don’t suggest for a second that this is a completely unknown scare tactic when it comes to horror films, but it is one in which we don’t see very often, and I found this to be quite a nice touch, suggesting the hall itself is doing the haunting, rather than a ghost/demon haunting the hall. Of course, this on its own can be a little tiresome (particularly after the third time the door moves), but what really sets this apart from other films of the same nature is what happens when the team finally gets the door open. When the outside world suddenly finds itself in darkness, (and the corridor beyond the door finds itself in equal darkness), a whole world of opportunity presents itself as to what is waiting beyond. A demon? A ghost? Something with teeth strong enough to rip through flesh? I can honestly say my intrigue was at its peak at this point, particularly when Mackay bravely (or perhaps a little foolishly) shoves his arm into the dark abyss. Delaney’s acting shines during his scene – his facial expressions and his body language cannot prepare you for what he finds, although you definitely know it’s something out of the ordinary, and I guarantee you, you won’t see it coming.
While this film definitely has its share of twists and turns that send your heart racing for the characters on the screen, it also has to be noted that there were times where you find yourself watching what’s happening and frowning as you think to yourself “What the hell? Why did that happen?” I’m referring to the scenes in which the characters seem to have some kind of magic power that can fight demonic forces that lurk in darkness. Nowhere in the first part of the film does this come across as something they have the ability to do. The protection circle – I get that part. I don’t study demonology or even know that much about witchcraft, but I have seen enough films and read enough books surrounding this to know it’s a legitimate technique to ward of spirits – but for some reason, Mackay has the ability to chant an incantation that produces enough light to fight the surrounding darkness. To me, this felt like a bit of a cop out. Director Simon Pearce did a wonderful job trapping the cast in a world of darkness that cannot penetrate the protection circle (impeccably drawn, I might add, for a character who was so frightened a moment before actually drawing it), and, though I am not a fan of CGI, I enjoyed and felt the adrenaline run, wondering how on earth they were going to get out of the situation they found themselves in. To use magic (I honestly don’t have any other way of describing it) just seemed cheap, and to be honest, a little lazy. It would have been better if they had found another, more human way of escaping. This can also be said for the climax of the movie. It is unexpected, there is no denying that, but it seemed a little…confusing? Without giving too much away, the surviving characters devise a plan to defeat the darkness…but I honestly don’t know how or why they came to this conclusion, or how they’d even know it would work. It is explained, so it’s not completely random…but it doesn’t really give the audience what it’s looking for. Unfortunately, for me, I’m not sure this worked, and I think it could have ended a little more entertaining than it did.
Unlike a lot of paranormal horror films that exist today, it was the story itself that was the strongest element, and this was definitely helped by the casting. Delaney portrayed his character so authentically, you actually believe he has seen all this before, and I hope this film helps him realise he could have a strong future in the horror field. Cudden plays the sweet, albeit strong-natured psychic Anna Gilmour. Although I am not a big fan of psychics, I couldn’t help but feel a certain fondness for her character because of the way she portrayed herself in the group. Merrells plays the tough, clearly-hiding-something camera man Mark Vega who, despite Mackay giving him a hard time because of his past (which we don’t find out until much later in the film), we grow to root for, and hope he survives the nightmare of the hall. Perkins, however, plays the technician Ian Calder; clearly a character added for the comic value needed for a horror film. Despite his role in the group, he is the one character I found myself not really bothered if he survived. His comedy was a little annoying; inappropriate outbursts to demonstrate his unease at being trapped in the room were not really comical, and more often than not, I felt his presence there a little unnecessary.
If you are a fan of paranormal horror films – I would say give this a watch. If you are a fan of horror films in general; again, I would recommend this film. Despite some of its drawbacks (cheaply made flashbacks caught on film that look like nothing more than a University Drama Classes take on modern horror), it takes a step away from conventional, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary ghost stories, and returns the subtle, genuine scare tactics that films nowadays seem to have lost in a quest for a successful ghost story.
Director: Simon Pearce.
Starring: Martin Delaney, Lucy Cudden, Simon Merrells, Alexander Perkins, Grahame Fox
Running Time: 74 minutes
Release Date: 20 April 2015