Spirits in the Dark

Even the worst workaholic probably has some kind of hobby to help them unwind. Granted, hobbies can sometimes get pretty specific and therefore incomprehensible to those of us who don’t enjoy whatever it is. I like to relax by playing quizzes on Sporcle, which to some might seem an awful lot like deliberately reliving high school where everything will be on the test, so I understand people thinking it’s weird. In the same way, I certainly wouldn’t be interested in the hobby Gil (József Gallai) enjoys in Spirits in the Dark.

Gil, you see, likes to explore abandoned buildings and doesn’t mind doing so after dark. You couldn’t pay me enough for this kind of expedition, and it isn’t because I scare easily, or at least not just that. I’d constantly be worrying about the ceiling caving in or the floor giving way. Anyway, Gil and his wife Stephanie (Beáta Boldog) both enjoyed this, so I guess they were made for each other. Sadly, both Stephanie and their daughter died in childbirth, leaving Gil to explore alone with his camera.

A deserted theater
See, this isn’t even a nice place to visit.

Then Gil discovers some mysterious footage on his computer, footage of someone exploring an abandoned building he’s never seen before. He finds the structure intriguing, but what really stuns him is a closeup image of a white crystal necklace exactly like the one his wife always wore. Managing to track the location down, Gil finds himself in a deserted complex of buildings, supposedly a former military complex, with the main structure also the site of the video. I was just thinking it looked like Pripyat when Gil agreed with me, and the place definitely has the same grey, institutional design as well the same unsettling air of having been hastily abandoned to the elements. As his eerie walk through the crumbling, deserted hallways continues, it’s as the mystery footage suggested — Gil isn’t alone. But what haunts these halls isn’t quite what you might think, and Gil faces an unexpected test of courage that goes far beyond ghosts.

There’s a beautifully scary slow build to this film, with every shadow hiding a secret and every half-seen movement a threat. Gil, still quietly grieving his loss, is a relatable Everyman — albeit one with a strange hobby — turned into an unlikely hero. The setting is a terrifying, palpable presence, with an atmosphere that weighs on you even through the screen. Best of all, the ending makes you think. It’s a creepy and compelling film from József Gallai, who also wrote and directed, that gives another layer to the usual abandoned building tropes. It proves that you never know what nightmares — or miracles — you might find when you explore off the beaten path.

The Watchers

John finally gets a call, but not the one he's been hoping for.

We’ve all had that feeling now and then, that indefinable certainty that someone’s looking at us. Sometimes we’re right about it, sometimes wrong, but in either case the feeling doesn’t last and we go about our day. In The Watchers, though, John (Jeff Moffitt) is having more of a problem with that feeling than usual. Everywhere he turns, he insists there’s someone watching him and it’s bothering him so much he’s making emergency calls to his psychiatrist Dr. Orwell (Timothy J. Cox).

Stress can do strange things sometimes, Dr. Orwell says soothingly, and even aside from the feeling of being stared at John has plenty of that. He’s estranged from his wife Marcie (Nikki Flanagan) and leaves pleading messages on her voicemail that remain unanswered. The pressure is affecting him at work, too, as you might imagine. His boss Philip (Darrin Biss) is very understanding, but that only seems to enrage John, which makes the stress worse.

Then a cryptic note appears inside his apartment, left by a hooded figure John can’t get a good look at. A woman (Kathleen Boddington) he doesn’t know says she’s been waiting for him. When John witnesses a tragedy and tries to report it to a police officer (Robert Nesi) the officer seems to know an awful lot about John, as do many other people he encounters on the street. It seems there’s something to John’s paranoia after all — but it isn’t until his apparently random meeting with an older man (Peter Francis Span) that he begins to grasp the full scope of what’s happening to him.

You can’t help but feel for John — all he really wants is for his wife to return his calls and figure out what’s going on. But as far as the latter goes, it’s a clear case of needing to be careful what you wish for, as the truth will change his world forever. As alone as he feels he does have people willing to help — his boss, the reassuring Dr. Orwell — but he’s determined to go it alone, perhaps out of some misguided need to feel in control. The very last thing he has is control, however, as he loses more and more of himself to these watchers.

I’ll give it four out of five. All the clues are there but the ending still gives a satisfying twist, with some eerie and unsettling moments along the way as we follow John’s bizarre journey of discovery — or perhaps his long fall down the rabbit hole. It’s a realistic look at a regular guy swept up into extreme circumstances and finding out he was never really who he thought he was.