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Case Number 26423: Small Claims Court

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The Castle Project

Cinema Libre // 2013 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Nazarewycz (Retired) // October 18th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Michael Nazarewycz just realized this has nothing to do with Nathan Fillion.

The Charge

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Opening Statement

I watch very few of these sorts of things on TV. It isn't for lack of interest; I have a finite bandwidth. The countless series and specials featuring people poking around creepy old buildings with night vision cameras, while intriguing, just don't make the cut. This piqued my interest, though, because it's a full-blown documentary released in the month of October, when the glut of "free" product on television surely is at its annual peak. If your stuff comes priced for retail when everyone else's stuff comes with basic cable, your stuff must be pretty special.

Facts of the Case

Architect Brian Higgins was looking for a property to renovate and convert into a bed-and-breakfast and found one in the Croke Patterson Mansion in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado. He landed the place for a great price and soon learned why: it's haunted, or so many believed. When workers at the site of the renovation started reporting odd goings-on, Higgins decided to become a filmmaker and turn the renovation project into the subject of a haunted house documentary.

For more than two weeks, Higgins does more than oversee his renovation project by day; he serves as the building's sole resident by night, with night vision cameras and highly sensitive audio recorders rolling from sleep to wake, all with the hopes of capturing proof that something wicked this way lives.

The Evidence

Okay. Maybe your stuff isn't pretty special after all. Maybe you released your stuff when business was busiest in an effort to associate it with better stuff, or to lose it in the crowd altogether. Whatever the reason, The Castle Project is worse than bad; it's boring, which is the last thing you want when you're trying to scare people.

It starts really well, with a voiceover of an anonymous previous owner of the mansion. The voice, disguised as such so that it eerily sounds like it is going through a speakerphone and a voice distorter, recounts a scary tale of what happened to two poor guard dogs that spent the night in the old place. It's chilling. The combination of dogs in peril and the man's voice hooks you immediately. After that, though, you are never reeled in.

Higgins has several components that he tries to integrate into one narrative: the history of the mansion, the experiences of the mansion's previous owners, the opinions of paranormal professionals, the experiences of the contractors working there during the day, and his own experiences as he lives there for sixteen days. What terribly hampers the film is the balance he attempts to strike among the components. He spends far too much time on the history of the house, which is the driest material one can find. I understand that the origin might be important, but the documentary isn't about the house per se, it's about the scary stuff that happens in the house.

Since you can't have too much of one thing without not enough of another, that wealth (dearth?) is spread among the other components, most notably the night vision footage. I don't know in what order The Castle Project was shot, but as the film progresses, it's clear that Higgins was banking on more interesting/useable night vision footage than was ultimately available. Only about half his nights are documented, and one of those—when a bat had found its way in his room—was more laughable than scary (at least for the viewer).

The film jumps the shark when Higgins, on Night 16, announces to the camera that he has decided to no longer live in the house because it does not have smoke alarms and he feels his safety is threatened. I yelled at the TV over this, because (A) he would have known about the absence of smoke alarms long before he started living there; (B) he just bought a mansion, surely he can spring to wire a few smokes through the place; and (c) it feels like an excuse for him to get out of there because nothing interesting is happening.

Throughout the film, Higgins ponders more and more about life and death and the afterlife, and I don't begrudge him that. Living alone at night in a mansion that is potentially haunted by spirits could certainly inspire such thoughts. In the last 15 minutes of film, Higgins decides to draw a credulity straining conclusion that his mansion and Dante's Inferno have some connection, even going so far as to travel to Italy and make thin comparisons between classic Italian art and his mansion.

The film might be a lean 76 minutes, but is sure feels longer.

The only extra is the film's trailer. A better offering might have been to include more of the house's history as an extra as opposed to a focal point in the film, leaving more time for something more interesting in the film.

The video quality is average at best and washed out at times, and is very much exposed as such when Higgins goes for green screen effects behind some of his interview subjects. There are also issues with white captions being unreadable against bright backgrounds. The audio is clear, but given that 99% of it is single-voice dialogue, it had better be.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There are a couple of genuinely creepy moments. The previous owner's tale that opens the film (the voice returnsat the end as well)—is one such moment, as is Higgins' Night 14 expedition to the basement. He isn't there with a crew, and you know it. I admit I felt a butterfly or two wondering if something was going to manifest itself. The few snippets of audio that seemed to catch something otherworldly were intriguing as well.

Closing Statement

Higgins might know his stuff about architecture, renovations, and property investment, but when it comes to filmmaking, this is not only his first effort, it might be his first camera. I admire him for pursuing his passion; I just think his zeal got the best of him.

The Verdict

Just as I would be disappointed in a comedy without laughs, so too am I disappointed in a chiller with no chills. Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: Cinema Libre
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Documentary
• Historical
• Horror
• Mystery

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


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