Neither the best nor worst entry in the recent glut of found-footage horror movies, “Muirhouse” produces decent chills from a ghost hunter’s overnight stay in a spooky old mansion. Atmospherically filmed inside what’s locally known as “Australia’s most haunted house,” Tanzeal Rahim’s debut feature doesn’t commit any major blunders, but lacks the killer twists and high-level scares required to attract auds beyond faithful genre fans. Pic should rack up fest dates and score plenty of offshore ancillary action; outlook for its Nov. 8 domestic release appears modest.The latest in a long line of low-budget thrillers to lean heavily on “The Blair Witch Project” blueprint, “Muirhouse” is thematically more in tune with the “Paranormal Activity” series. In keeping with these highly influential predecessors, the pic relies more on visual suggestion and disconcerting sounds than on explicit details of supernatural activity. The simple story centers on Phillip Muirhouse (Iain P.F. McDonald), an author shooting a DVD to accompany his latest book, “The Dead Country,” about haunted Australian houses. Introducing Muirhouse as a hammer-wielding maniac arrested by cops on a lonely stretch of road, the narrative rewinds to show events recorded by the author prior to his ill-fated field trip. Material from Muirhouse’s archives show his conversations with publishing rep Kate (Kate Henderson) and Steve (Steve Lynch), a ghost-hunting expert whose solemn advice to “never do this alone” will naturally fail to be observed. The most intriguing element of the setup, as well as the most valuable tool in the movie’s marketing armory, is the dwelling Muirhouse plans to stake out with multiple cameras and hi-tech audio equipment: Monte Cristo Homestead, a Victorian manor constructed in 1885 in the New South Wales town of Junee. A popular tourist attraction, the place is believed by many to be Australia’s most intense hotspot for paranormal goings-on. Background info on Monte Cristo’s history of murder, tragic deaths and unexplained phenomena serve as a good primer for Muirhouse’s mission to capture conclusive evidence. Once the sun goes down and Monte Cristo’s spirits start getting restless, the pic generates a consistently uncomfortable atmosphere, and supplies a few genuinely creepy moments, but can’t deliver the top-gear terror it promises. Best sequences center on an old wardrobe with qualities that come closest to producing an equivalent to the “child in the corner” in “The Blair Witch Project.” McDonald is fine as the investigator who’s at once terrified and excited by events around him, though the real star of the show is Monte Cristo itself. A fully furnished and decorated dream location that any horror-movie production designer would be proud to have created, the house and its surrounding grounds ooze menace from every angle. High-quality p.o.v. footage and images from cameras scattered throughout Monte Cristo are sharply edited into a pacey 75 minutes. Disorienting rumbles and contorted human grumbles on the topnotch soundtrack contribute significantly to the air of disquiet. Other technical aspects are pro.
A Monster Pictures release of a Media Collective production. (International sales: the Media Collective, Sydney.) Produced by Aisha Deeb, Daniel Littlepage, Tanzeal Rahim. Directed, written by Tanzeal Rahim.
Camera (color, HD), Dan Freene; editors, Dery Sultana, Rahim; sound (stereo), Martin Cox; visual effects, Sultana; stunt coordinator, Lawrence David Ryan. Reviewed on DVD, Adelaide, Oct. 31, 2012. Running time: 75 MIN.
Iain P.F. McDonald, Kate Henderson, Steve Lynch, Libby Ashby, David Saporito, Jordie McKay.