2 out of 5
Directed by: Florian Habicht
What are the people like who work at and run haunted houses? What draws them to the job, and what – if any – affects does it take on them?
This is certainly a valid premise for a documentary, and choosing what would seem to be a well known establishment in New Zealand – Spookers, a haunted house / corn maze built into a former mental patient facility – as its focus means we can spend time zeroing in on a specific community, and specific denizens.
Within the first few minutes of Spookers, we meet one of the workers, and are told, while they’re in full makeup, that dressing up and scaring others helps them manage the stress in their own life.
Now repeat this sentiment multiple times, only really interview two people who work at Spookers, and flesh out the rest of your 110 minutes with wandering, unmotivated footage of people in their costumes dancing in slow motion and random, dreamlike vignettes featuring the same few performers.
At points, Spookers does achieve its goal of humanizing the ‘art’ of spooking, but it does so at the expense of actually showing us the community that we’re told bonds people to the place. We touch base with four or five people, total, but spend the majority of the time with – as mentioned – two of them, which oddly trivializes the personal experiences they relate, because they drop their stories and then the movie remembers it has other business to attend to. More random vignettes! Some of that other business also offers interest: a thread in which the taste of maligning mental illness in a fairly recently closed establishment for the same is questioned, and our time spent with husband and wife Spookers creators is a lot of fun, given that neither seems to have a taste for horror, and one of them is also mayor of the town…!
To be fair to those random vignettes, they’re competently shot and staged, and later on, they are used to tie into what’s being spoken about, but a very, very little of that stuff goes a long, long way, and by about a half hour into Spookers, we’ve seen and heard what it has to show and tell.