Low-budget 'Paranormal Prison' haunted by low stakes, storytelling slog
"Paranormal Prison" - ★ ★
Early in the low-budget, haunted house-of-detention horror tale "Paranormal Prison," Matthew, the wisecracking host of a low-rated online reality show called "The Skeptic and the Scientist," brags that they have "a loyal audience."
Jacob the cameraman rolls his eyes.
"Pretty soon," he says, "we're gonna be paying people to watch the show!"
Matthew, played by a snarky Todd Haberkorn, decides on a drastic plan of action to boost viewership and take advantage of the program's resident scientist Sara (Paris Warner, who could easily pass for a high school sophomore).
Sara has created an electromagnetic detector device that theoretically flashes blue or green in the presence of spirits. Matthew has arranged for his crew -- including sound technician Ashley (Coryn Treadwell) and cameraman Jacob (Brian Telestai) -- to spend the night in a legendary haunted Idaho prison, abandoned ever since a 1939 riot killed three people.
If they can document the existence of paranormal activity, before the prison gets torn down to make room for condominiums, their show will be saved.
"Paranormal Prison," directed and co-written by Brian Jagger, enjoys the distinction of shepherding the phenomenal influence of "The Blair Witch Project" into its third decade.
Jagger's movie doesn't conform exactly to the "found footage" premise established by the 1999 release, but it certainly qualifies as a subset of the reality-cam, box office juggernaut.
"Paranormal Prison" burns through a long, long fuse before any of the real fireworks begin, and those turn out to be closer to fizzling sparklers than roman candles or missiles.
Despite its brief running time of 70 minutes (66 minutes without credits), the horror tale slogs through its setup, with speed-bumps for seemingly superfluous character development moments such as Ashley's confession of guilt over a colleague's death.
The guide in charge of the prison, known only as the Park Ranger (Easton Lay), warns the crew about the ghost of foreboding serial killer Mary Beth Flake (Amanda Fitch). Four roses mysteriously bloom year-round on a bush outside of Flake's cell.
"Legend has it that when the roses start to go away," the park ranger intones, trouble will follow.
Then, Sara notices one of the roses has been snipped!
Mayhem ensues, with conventional montages of shrieking people running for their lives while their body cameras swing wildly in quick-cut, zigzag blurs, bumping up the Dramamine quotient to 100.
At the end, the derivative "Paranormal Prison" ekes out a turn of the narrative screw, setting up a potential sequel all about condos built on the site of a haunted jail.
Call it "Paranormal Subdivision."
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Starring: Todd Haberkorn, Paris Warner, Coryn Treadwell, Brian Telestai, Easton Lay
Directed by: Brian Jagger
Other: A Gravitas Ventures release in theaters and on demand. Not rated by the MPAA, contains scary images. 70 minutes