October 25, 2007

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Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour (PG)
A young girl finds grainy, questionably acted spookiness in the California town of Pine Valley in Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour.

There’s a term used with digital images — low res (low resolution). Low-res pictures look pixelated and fuzzy, a bit like they’ve been shot through a scratched-up lens. This entire movie looked low-res, like the original image size was blown up way too big to fill the screen at the multiplex. As a result, our first glimpse of Sarah Landon (Rissa Walters) makes her appear like she’s walking around on a particularly smoggy day, one that might include a mild sandstorm. A few months after the death of her best friend (killed by a drunk driver, we’re led to believe), she decides to go visit her friend’s grandmother in Pine Valley, a sleepy California town that Sarah last visited as a kid with her friend. In Pine Valley she is introduced to two brothers (one of whom she actually met back in the day and shared a childhood kiss with) who are at the center of a town rumor involving the supernatural. David Baker (Brian Comrie) is potentially cursed and Matt Baker (Dan Comrie) is handsome. Allegedly. At least, Sarah seems to think so. Personally, I think the brother who believes he’s about to be killed by the ghost of an uncle looking for vengeance over the death of his own son (in a car accident with the Baker boys’ mom) is more interesting though neither of these boys is exactly pin-up material. Neither of these boys is exactly Royal Shakespeare Company material either. They give rather shaky performances as a believer (David) and a doubter (Matt). Sarah just sort of tags along, fitting in a ghostly investigation as to whether David really is in any danger and how he might prevent it between dinners with her friend’s grandma.

Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour feels like an audition for some future teen movie (which it might be — as all the Comries in the cast suggest, this movie might be a stepping stone for the whole family). It’s heavy on exposition and (understandably, considering the quality of the picture) light on spooky special effects. Rissa Walters doesn’t exactly burn up the screen, but she has a likeable younger-Amanda-Bynes quality and a shockingly normal-girl physique (it’s really noticeable how freakishly skinny most teen actors are when you see a slim but normally proportioned girl like Walters).

The movie seems like a you-gotta-start-somewhere résumé-building project and would need to be slicker (with its story and its dialogue as well as its technical aspects) to really offer some kind of chills. The only truly terrifying moment of the film comes at the end, when there’s a rather strong suggestion that Paranormal Hour is meant to have a sequel. D

Rated PG for thematic elements, mild peril and language. Directed by Lisa Comrie and written by John Comrie and Lisa Comrie, Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour is an hour and 21 minutes long and is distributed by Freestyle Releasing.