Saturday, November 19, 2005

TV REVIEW: A Haunting: "Cursed"

A Haunting's fourth installment, "Cursed," may be the most intriguing episode of this "true-to-life" Discovery Channel series yet aired. As I wrote last week, I'm regarding this show not as a truthful documentary, but rather as a horror anthology like One Step Beyond or Tales from the Darkside, one that manipulates the tools of the documentary format to augment the scare quotient. My review is based on that perception, so don't ask me to vouch for any of the "truth" in these scenarios. I won't go there.

Okay, leaving that explanation behind for the time-being, here's the story of "Cursed": Romi and Fernando, a couple living in Tucson, Arizona with four young children, go house-hunting, and during one expedition, Romi becomes obsessed with the purchase of an abandoned, ramshackle place. The family eventually moves in, but according to the voice-over narration, the house proves to a be a "trial of sanity,"(!) as well as a "gateway" both into the world of ghosts and into the dark recesses of Romi's mind. Yikes!

Let me just say that I get a kick out of these deadpan, ominous opening narrations, which state matters so dramatically, and with such portentous certainty. Wouldn't you love to have that deep-voiced narrator record your answering machine message? "John is not HOME at the TIME BEING. HE is AWAY....from his desk. BUT leave a MESSAGE at the beep. HE WILL return your call. EVENTUALLY..."

Anyway, I wrote last week about the ironclad story-structure (thus far) of A Haunting, and my concern that it would grow tiresome if repeated too frequently. To recap, here are the four stages of each story: The Honeymoon (find a house cheap, fix it up and move in!), The Uncertainty Stage (there's something weird going on here...), The Recognition Stage (this place is haunted, we better bring in a priest and/or paranormal investigator!) and the Let's All Take A Deep Breath Conclusion (in which everything is resolved, and order is restored in the universe). Okay, that's fine. This episode closely adheres to this established pattern. But - and this is a big but - "Cursed" distinguishes itself nicely from the other episodes by offering a different, and much more personal perspective on a haunting.

We've had fine protagonists in other installments, but nothing on the scale of how Romi is portrayed this week. "Cursed" is all about her; and about her very individual manner of "haunting." In fact, this whole story, in just about every aspect, involves Romi: her past, and what we come to learn about her. This viewpoint is more than enough of a "focus" shift to make the episode feel fresh, and it's a good move for the series to tweak the approach.

Romi is interesting. She has experienced recurring nightmares all her life (involving a hose spigot pouring water into a skeleton's mouth...) and feels herself "being pulled towards something" when she first spots the house in question. Once settled in there, Romi becomes the target of the supernatural forces, and suffers the attacks alone because she loves the house and never wants to leave it. Her children and husband are safe, so she believes she's the target of the "entity" and determines to secretly endure "the restless nights." The years pass, and Romi manages, but when she has a grandchild, Alec, the ghosts return more powerfully than before, and now the stakes are much higher -- she has something to fight for besides herself. Finally, in the end, Romi realizes that she is the source of the paranormal activity...her mind is creating the very poltergeist that is terrorizing everybody. The answer - as it has always been - lays within her very psyche. (And since my wife is a therapist, I enjoyed the post-script of the story, which recommended therapy for people like Romi who are suffering and need to talk about it...)

The story of Romi, my friends, works as a fully developed character arc. A good one too, in part because we haven't yet seen it on A Haunting before. So the particulars of "Cursed" nicely overcome the formulaic outline of the plot.

Some other twists got thrown into the mix this week too. In virtually every installment thus far, we've seen a Priest or some other Man of God bless the haunted house (usually without positive result...), yet this week, the Deacon is one of the people who is actually interviewed by the production. So instead of just seeing such a character in a re-enactment, we actually get this particular man's point of view about a haunting experience. Again, this is something I want to see explored on the show. I want perspectives outside the family's and the investigators. Someone a little further removed.

Above, I wrote about not caring whether or not these stories are true. You see, I have a different standard for judging A Haunting, and it's the same one I applied to One Step Beyond. I don't expect these shows to convince me that ghosts are real, but I do expect them to accurately reflect the current thinking in the study of the paranormal. This week, I was happy to see that A Haunting did not just copy the Hollywood idea of a "poltergeist" (like from the Tobe Hooper movie...) but rather adhered to the research on this phenomenon. In other words, "Cursed" reports accurately on poltergeist activity. Poltergeists are (according to research) not discarnate spirits at all, but the result of a living person with unusual (and usually subconscious...) abilities. Often, it is adolescents - kids going through puberty - who manifest poltergeist-like activity, but I don't find it a stretch at all to believe that Romi could be the source of such manifestations. It works, and it's true to research. Another aspect of the tale, regarding the location of the house between TV towers and the proximity of heightened electromagnetic fields, is also - believe it or don't - a frequently reported aspect of paranormal cases.

My biggest concern with "Cursed" is that the episode never really gets to the bottom of what's eating Romi. What does her dream (which we see visualized at least twice) mean? Are these images related to a trauma in childhood? The "real" Romi says in an interview that she has had this dream all her life, and so I must wonder what she thinks it means. I would have liked to see the dream and its significance explained more fully, especially since this episode focuses on this character so much. But the fact that I was left wanting to know more (and not less, like Ghost Whisperer) only means that A Haunting is getting the job done: telling interesting human stories based on reported paranormal happenings.

So I'm still watching; and still enjoying.

3 comments:

  1. nerdgirl3:16 AM

    Kenneth, or someone, PLEASE tell Romi that all her troubles hasn't been her fault. I couldn't believe that she believed that "psychic" girl. Please, tell Romi that there is a demon in her house! She has to get it out. It is tormenting her and CAUSING her problems (her depressions and anxieties are not causing it!). Romi needs to know this ASAP in order to find some peace.

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    1. Anonymous4:12 PM

      EXACTLY! Poor woman, anyone can use some therapy, but in her case that didnt stop things from happenint, or did it. I want to know what happened to he rafterwards, and I felt so sorry for her, thinking it was all her fault. That Amy Allen jerk should think twice before jumping to conclusions her psychology-professor would give her great marks for... These things are not understood by ordinary psychology, only made worse..

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  2. Anonymous4:10 PM

    were is this house located ? I live in Tucson az would like to know were its at?

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