May 15, 2012

Emergo (2011)

Unlike what happens in the case of vampires, werewolves and other creatures from folklore, whose existence is understood as pure fantasy, in the case of ghosts this is a much more controverted affair. Facing the difficulty to explain certain supernatural events, there are several groups of people with the goal of studying and investigating the supposed cases of paranormal activity. Of course, many of these groups walk the thin line between science and superstition, but their existence is testament of the deep fascination with ghosts, which is more alive than ever. The world of these paranormal investigators captured the imagination of Spanish filmmaker Rodrigo Cortés, inspiring him to write the film "Red Lights". However, his research was so extensive that it originated a second screenplay which he titled "Emergo". And this new screenplay meant the big opportunity for a young filmmaker named Carles Torrens, who was picked by Cortés to direct the film.

"Emergo", from the Latin word for "appear", tells the story of a team of paranormal investigators that decide to take the case of an apparent haunting in an old apartment. The team is made of Dr. Helzer (Michael O'Keefe), his assistant Ellen (Fiona Glascott) and technical expert Paul (Rick Gonzalez), who enter apartment 143 where Alan White (Kai Lennox) lives with his children Caitlin (Gia Mantegna) and Benny (Damian Roman). At the apartment, Paul and Ellen begin to install their electronic devices: movement detectors, cameras in each room and electromagnetic waves detectors. The reason for this is that the White s have been suffering from paranormal activity since the death of Alan's wife. Strange noises are heard in the house, objects move by themselves, and there's also the terrible feeling that something else is there with them. To make things worse, things between Alan and his daughter Caitlin aren't good, making more difficult the work of the investigators.

Rechristened with the international title of "Apartament 143", the film deals basically with the experience lived by the three investigators who face their first real case of a haunting. The most interesting element of the script is the realist tone given by writer Rodrigo Cortés, to the way the characters are developed in the apartment. That is, Cortés' team of investigators aren't mere amateurs, they see themselves as scientists and act with a scientific mindset, moved by a curiosity that defeats their fears. This gives the film a good dose of verisimilitude, as in a way it justifies their staying in the house and filming of the whole thing. In general, "Emergo" distinguishes itself from similar found footage horror films by the mere fact that there's a conscious effort for developing its characters and give them well defined personalities. This makes the story to feel fresh and vibrant, which is good as originality is not one of the plot's main assets.

Developing the film as a found footage mockumentary, the young débutant Carles Torrens offers a story told by the sum of the material recorded by the many cameras that the team has installed. So, the film includes footage from security cameras, professional video cameras, handy-cam video recordings and even footage from a cell phone. Visually this makes the film very rich, with cinematographer Óscar Durán employing a wide variety of visual styles that not only look great, but that are also justified by Torrens' visual design. However, not everything is perfect in "Emergo", as even when it presents an interesting camera work, the visual narrative is in general deficient, and this can be appreciated in the uneven rhythm that the film has in occasions, as more than once the action gets too slow to the point that nothing really happens, including a couple of long scenes full of expository dialogs that could had been solved in a more effective way.

It must be said that, while nothing amazing, there are a couple of high quality performances in "Emergo", mainly amongst the cast members who play the team of paranormal investigators. Michael O'Keefe, who plays the team leader, Dr. Helzer, makes a good job as the voice of reason in the film, skeptic at the supernatural explanation of a haunted house, though decided to find the real origin of the strange events that take place at the Whites' apartment. Rick Gonzalez and Fiona Glascott deliver quite good performances, and the couple has great chemistry on camera. Gonzalez showcases as well to have a nice comic timing, which without overacting, manages to give some good comic relief to the film. Gia Mantegna (daughter of actor Joe Mantegna), who plays Alan's rebel teenager daughter Caitlin makes an acceptable job, though her character is somewhat a stereotype and she overacts it a bit more than once.

The negative side is without a doubt Kai Lennox, who delivers a quite poor performance as Alan White, being too overacted and artificial in his acting. This becomes particularly obvious in the couple of scenes in which director Torrens let his character explain himself in a series of expository lines. This is a mistake on Torrens' side, as not only these takes are too long and break the rhythm the film carries, Lennox doesn't take advantage of them, and on the contrary, his limited acting ends up revealed. Perhaps decisions like this have an origin in Torrens' lack of experience as a filmmaker, but they sadly do affect "Emergo" and make it tired and boring, despite its short runtime. Of course, there are a couple of well executed moments in the film, and particularly the climax results being a really effective scene that mixes perfectly the fantastic theme with the realist tone (what every found footage should do) in perfectly crafted scene.

There are certainly many good things in "Emergo", things in which it really surpasses many films of the found footage subgenre. However, there are sadly a good amount of bad elements that unfortunately downgrade the film. For what it's worth, "Emergo" cements Rodrigo Cortés' reputation as a horror author that takes risks with new proposals in each project (as shown in his own film, "Buried"); but sadly, his pupil Torrens couldn't overcome his lack of experience. Anyways, despite the mistakes Torrens may have done in "Emergo", the film shows that the young filmmaker has an interesting vision, fresh and original. And not every débutant achieves this.

This review was originally published in Spanish for Habitación 101 in April the 28th of 2012. Habitación 101 is a great site to check for news and reviews on cinema and theatre in Spanish.

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