FrightFest 2023: Spookt Asks If You Believe in Ghosts

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I love ghost movies. I’m a particularly ravenous fan of films that question whether their alleged ghosts are actual spirits or just ordinary, scientifically explicable phenomena, so I was really excited to watch Spookt. This movie looked like it was going to take the awesome intellectual back and forth of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and transpose it into a haunted house key, and I couldn’t wait to see which side would come out on top.

Spookt was directed by Tony Reames, and it stars Christen Sharice, Hayley Leary, Erin Brown, Eric Roberts, and Keith Brooks. The film takes place in Greenville, Pennsylvania, and it’s about a creepy old house where an infamous physician named Dr. Byler used to live. This guy was a respected surgeon who fell from glory after several of his patients died on the operating table, and he himself died after performing a bizarre surgery on himself.

On top of that, a girl named Flora also went missing at the house sometime after Dr. Byler died, so the locals think the place is haunted. One day, two paranormal investigators, an amateur named Claire and a self-styled “professional skeptic” named Rachel, decide to investigate the house and find out what really happened to Flora, and they get a lot more than they bargained for.

I have to be honest, I had a tough time getting into Spookt. For starters, the acting in the first act of this movie is a bit hit or miss. Most of the cast starts off pretty shaky, so I couldn’t quite buy into the characters. The only exception is Christen Sharice, the actress who plays Rachel. She’s excellent right from the get-go, so I always felt like she was a real person and not just an actor reciting lines.

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But despite Christen Sharice’s good performance, I still had an issue with her character. For about the first half of Spookt, Rachel is a huge jerk, so even though I bought into her, I didn’t enjoy seeing her on screen. Most notably, when she argues with Claire about the truth behind allegedly paranormal phenomena, it feels like she’s just tossing out insults and ridiculing the poor woman rather than actually debating her.

That quality makes her really unlikable, and it also keeps the film from working on an intellectual level. Like I said before, I thought this movie would have some awesome back-and-forth about the truth behind ghosts and spirits, but the debates between Rachel and Claire are pretty unsatisfying. Granted, there are a few good moments here and there, but on the whole, their discussions feel more like stereotypical Facebook arguments than genuine intellectual discourse.

So like I said, I had a tough time getting into Spookt, but I never totally checked out. And I’m glad I didn’t because after a while, the problems began to fade, and this movie got a lot better. For example, some of the acting improves quite a bit, and by the end, I actually thought that Christen Sharice’s co-lead, Hayley Leary (who plays Claire), gave a great performance as well.

Along similar lines, the dynamic between the two main characters also evens out, and it eventually becomes one of the best things about the film. Around the halfway point, Claire and Rachel decide to put aside their differences and work as a team, so they stop having obnoxious pseudo-arguments. Getting all that nonsense out of the picture allows these two characters and their relationship to shine, and they become an absolute joy to watch.

Last but not least, we have to talk about the horror in Spookt. This is clearly a low-budget movie, but director Tony Reames manages to squeeze every ounce of creepiness he can from his limited resources. He imbues the story with a super spooky atmosphere, and he crafts some excellent scares that find a perfect middle ground between overly subtle and excessively in your face.

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Then, when the film goes all-out on the horror in the third act, it gets even better. This part of Spookt is a ton of fun, and the big reveals caught me a bit off guard. The mythology behind Dr. Byler and his house isn’t quite what I was expecting, so I really enjoyed learning what was really going on.

That being said, I did have one issue with the horror in this movie. While it’s fun in the moment, it doesn’t fit together all that well if you take a step back and really think about it. I can’t get into any specifics without spoiling some big surprises, but suffice it to say, the film tries to combine a couple of different subgenres, and that mix doesn’t entirely work.

For example, there are a few things that end up feeling like they belong in a different movie, and there are a handful of scenes that seem to contradict one another. The logic behind the horror just doesn’t hold up, and for me, that keeps Spookt from being more than just a fun little horror flick.

But I love fun little horror flicks, so at the end of the day, I’m happy to say that I had a really good time with this film. Sure, it has its fair share of problems, but they’re mostly in the beginning. They fade away quickly enough, so by the time the credits begin to roll, Spookt ends up being an awesome haunted house film that I hope more people will get a chance to watch.

Spookt had its world premiere at FrightFest on August 26.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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