Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Marsh (Canada, 2006)



"People're weird. They die... they get weirder."

Geoffry Hunt



Claire Holloway (Gabrielle Anwar) is a successful writer of morbid kiddy books who is plagued by nightmares. One day she sees the house of her dark dreams—the Rose Marsh Farm in Westmoreland County—on the tube and promptly rents it to stay in while working on her next book. Wow! Not only do some of the faces in town seem familiar to her, but back at the ranch she is haunted by the terrifying ghosts of a little girl and a teenage boy (Joe Dinicol of Diary of the Dead [2007 / trailer]). The local newspaper publisher Noah Pitney (Justin Louis of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II [1987 / trailer] and Blood & Donuts [1995 / trailer]) wants to get to know her despite the fact that she sort of acts like a frigid bitch, but it's better that way cause in a by-the-number flick like this the viewer knows that he ain't as kosher as he pretends to be. Instead of snuggling up in his arms when the ghosts start a-haunting, she runs to the local parapsychologist Hunt (Forest Whitaker)—every small town has one, right?—whose business card she just happens to find under the sofa. What is her connection to the ghosts and the tragedy that happened in the house some 20 years earlier? Well, here's a hint: Claire Holloway was adopted…
OK, one can understand why Gabrielle Anwar said yes to making this film. The Marsh was released a year before Burn Notice went on air in 2007 and she began earning a regular pay check as Fiona Clenanne, the anorexic-looking second-tier female. But in 2006, she was still an actress normally referred to as "that woman who did the tango with Al Pacino" in one of his worst films, Scent of a Woman (1992 / trailer), and had only headlined a few non-masterpieces such as Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal (2001 / trailer), Flying Virus (2001 / trailer) and Abel Ferrara's totally pointless remake Body Snatchers (1993 / trailer).
Thus, the lead in a Canadian-shot theatrical release with a name co-star like Forest Whitaker (who worked with her already when he was less well known in Body Snatchers) must have been tempting, especially when house payments have to be made. So, Ms Anwar, we understand and forgive you for taking part in this piece of shit and hope you were at least well paid. But in regard to Forest Whitaker, man, dude, you're a fucking serious actor! What the hell are you doing in something like this? Do you have a gambling problem? Were you stoned when you read the script? Did you get free blowjobs guaranteed in your contract for the length of the shoot? Let's hope that that award you got for The Last King of Scotland (trailer)—made the same year as The Marsh—will keep you out of films like this in the future.
The Marsh is a generic haunted house film that offers little new to the genre but, for that, is both twice as predictable and has twice as many holes in its story than the average television flick. Scriptwriter Michael Strokes may be a practiced hand at scripting B-movie plotlines—see the superior B-flick Exit Speed (2008 / trailer), the laughable CGI-heavy Z-flick Shadowbuilder (1998 / trailer) and the generic Mark Dacascos film Sanctuary (1997 / trailer)—but he was being particularly lazy with The Marsh. Aside from the generic and coincident-driven story, tangents are picked up and dropped or forgotten—for example, the red herring tale about the Rose tragedy 100 years earlier, whether or not the Dad (Peter MacNeill) was in on the cover-up, anything that might relate to what the teenage ghost says, anything that has to do with explaining how Claire became an orphan, why the publisher wants to cover up something that was reported in the newspaper 20 years earlier, and whoever's skeletal hands do the pulling—at the drop of a hat. And why does the little girl ghost do all the killing—after waiting 20 years, supposedly because she needed to be jump-started by Claire the Sparkplug—when it's the teenage ghost that is the evil one? And why does he want to keep her?
The Marsh may be nicely shot, but any and all possibly effective scenes end up inducing anger in the viewer due to the cheap trick of ALWAYS using sudden loud noise to underline the scare. Obviously enough, those involved were trying to achieve something a bit more classy than the average direct-to-DVD haunted house flick, but mood and subtlety—two aspects integral to the best classy haunted house flicks ranging from The Haunting (1963 / trailer) to The Shining (1980 / trailer)—do not seem to be among the directorial talents of the director, Jordan Barker.
If you want a decent haunted house flick, skip this turkey and either catch the two just-mentioned masterpieces or, if you prefer your films less historically burdened and more "independent", try Dark Remains (2005 / trailer)—it has ten times the scares of The Marsh at half the budget.

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