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I Am a Ghost

After the indie songfests "Colma: The Musical" and "Fruit Fly," H.P. Mendoza goes in another direction entirely with "I Am a Ghost," the writer-helmer's idiosyncratic wade into horror terrain.

With: Anna Ishida, Jeannie Barroga, Rick Burkhardt.

After the indie songfests “Colma: The Musical” and “Fruit Fly,” H.P. Mendoza goes in another direction entirely with “I Am a Ghost,” the writer-helmer’s idiosyncratic wade into horror terrain. Fans of standard genre fare will find this too long on setup and too short on payoff; indeed, the pic’s repetitious structure tries patience, and the story might have worked best as a 20-minute or half-hour short. Still, this haunting inside-out puzzle told from the unhappy spirit’s p.o.v. will intrigue more adventuresome viewers on the fest circuit and in eventual home-format release.

Emily (Anna Ishida) is a young woman apparently living by herself in a Victorian house, her dress and surroundings indicating the time is somewhere around the turn of the 19th century. But as we see her go about her daily tasks — over and over, identical actions often detailed just a bit further as they repeat — it becomes apparent that she is not strictly alone.

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At last a disembodied voice (Jeannie Barroga) identifies itself as that of a psychic trying to guide Emily into the afterlife. It seems her soul has been stuck in this home where she was (possibly) murdered long ago, and has recently been scaring the hell out of its current (never-seen) residents with poltergeisty disturbances. Trouble is, every time Emily is on the brink of crossing over, she panics and forgets she’s dead, begins reliving memories from her mortal existence, and has to be psychically wooed all over again.

The claustrophobia and monotony of the action are broken up by some experimentally tinged imagery, but it’s a bit of a slog at times getting to the point at which the suspense kicks up a few notches. Biggest development is the arrival, a full hour in, of a buck-naked demon (Rick Burkhardt) who terrorizes Emily, though he may be simply a facet of her own disturbed mind. Even given its relatively brief length, “I Am a Ghost” feels like a short story not quite developed enough in incident or satisfying enough in resolution to support feature form.

Though cleverly conceived, the script hands Ishida’s protag plenty of anachronistic speech, and fewer of her overly verbose exchanges with psychic Sylvia would have been welcome. Nonetheless, within its chosen narrative and physical limitations, the pic is artfully and resourcefully crafted on a small budget.

I Am a Ghost

Production: An Ersatz Film production. Produced by H.P. Mendoza, Mark Del Lima. Directed, written, edited by H.P. Mendoza.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Mendoza; music, Mendoza; costume designers, Barbara Harvey Abbott, Kelleigh Trowbridge, Jessica Cunningham; sound, Sylvia Fernandez; visual effects, Juliet Heller, Diana Tenes. Reviewed at San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival, March 9, 2012. Running time: 71 MIN.

Cast: With: Anna Ishida, Jeannie Barroga, Rick Burkhardt.

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