A team of professional ghost finders are trapped in an old village hall. The haunting they set out to investigate turns out to be far worse than they anticipated. Who will survive and what will be left of their souls?
‘Ghosts don’t make places bad. Bad places make ghosts.’
This quote from Simon R. Green, New York Times best-selling author, adequately sums up the nature of this British independent horror film. Judas Ghost was based on his ‘Ghost Finders’ book series and is a good example of how the ‘ghost’ theme is very much back in fashion within the horror genre. In addition to this, director Simon Pearce, used a similar statement when promoting the film, saying, ‘It’s about what you don’t see…what your imagination creates’. This flies in the face of the whole Saw/Hostel phenomenon which dominated the 2004/5/6 era and places Judas Ghost in the much more understated, ‘creepy’ category.
Interestingly, the title of this film was based on the term ‘Judas Goat’ which is commonly used at the slaughterhouse and in animal herding. It means that there is a trained goat which leads the rest into a specific location (i.e., to get killed). With this in mind, Judas Ghost tells the story of a group of ghost hunters who were sent by their ‘Institute’ to investigate a standard ‘haunting’ in order to create an instructional video for future ghost hunters. However, it doesn’t take long for the group to discover that this is no ordinary haunting – something horrific lingers here, of the likes of which none of them has ever previously encountered. Unable to use their vast amount of technology that they had brought along, they begin to resort to more old fashioned, ‘traditional’ methods of ghost prevention by drawing a circle of chalk and salt with various symbols on as a ring of protection. The spiritual presence (whatever that might be) deliberately messes with their heads, disorientating them and causing conflict amongst a once united group.
Although the initial idea was to make a found footage film, along the same lines of The Blair Witch Project, this was then scrapped as director Simon Pearce thought that using only one camera throughout would be too limiting. This is a decision that was definitely a wise one as already Paranormal Activity and Grave Encounters have pretty much cornered the ‘ghost’ side of handheld films. Instead, Judas Ghost begins as a hybrid, switching between the handheld camera within the film itself (with its lower visual quality and obvious shakiness), and the proper ones which give us the ‘outsiders’ perspective of events. This mixture worked well, especially as it separates itself from the countless other ghost films which are currently on the film market at the moment. The camerawork is solid and this is an especially incredible feat considering the limitations of the location.
Following from this, Judas Ghost is a film which is entirely set in one room, pretty much in real time (not in the sense of The Silent House, but much more effective in its execution), meaning that the audience get to see the characters development moment by moment. This rare experience is definitely tricky to pull off (Simon R. Green said that he was initially worried but after watching Buried (by Rodrigo Cortes), decided that it can be done), especially in terms of keeping the audience entertained and moving the story forward at a suitable pace. With the aid of supernatural occurrences, such as doors appearing and disappearing, day turning into night within seconds and random cold spots springing up around the room, there is plenty in Judas Ghost to keep horror fans on their toes.
It was nice to see a nod to several classic movies during Judas Ghost, such as The Exorcist, Star Trek and even Ghostbusters. Although the strongest association I would make is with recent ghost film, Grave Encounters. This had a similar storyline to Judas Ghost (a group of people going into a building to investigate the supernatural, when they end up getting trapped in there with weird things happening all around them) and I couldn’t help but think that at least some inspiration came from that film.
The special effects (though there weren’t many) were fairly decent, but obviously done on a budget. Simpler choices were made to induce fear in the audience, like blacking out the day lit windows and having a piano start playing by itself. These work well within a ghost story and were subtle, but still strong enough to start the growing sense of tension amongst the characters and audience alike. I thought that the technology that was featured all looked very realistic and helped to push the sad old ghost genre into the modern age, something which hasn’t really been seen before.
For me, the ending felt like a bit of an anti climax because after this huge build up and final revelation (although a somewhat non-important revelation), things hurtled along at breakneck speed for the last ten minutes and it was suddenly over. When characters were ‘killed’ it didn’t feel very dramatic because they were just sucked into some darkness and never seen again. As Judas Ghost had spent so long building on the individual personalities of these characters, to have them simply whisked away at a moment’s notice did leave one feeling a bit lost and confused, even cheated.
The fact that director Simon Pearce did not even take a fee for working on the project (instead choosing to put as much money directly into the film as possible), highlights the passion and enthusiasm that he felt for this project, and this is definitely reflected in the high level of skill which went into making it. The cinematography was excellent, the music was good and the acting was fantastic. As far as low budget, independent horror films go, this one raises the bar in the level of quality which can be produced, and could possibly even give some heavily financed, heavily star-filled movies a run for their money.
Judas Ghost (2013)