Sunday, October 13, 2019

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Investigation 13' (2019)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

A group of college-student ghost hunters lock themselves into a seemingly abandoned, allegedly haunted old insane asylum for the night, determined to record conclusive evidence of the afterlife. The weird old lady who owns the property promises to return for them the next morning. Do you really need any more info to guess what happens next in the rote direct-to-VOD horror movie Investigation 13? It's definitely not that everything goes well and all of the characters leave the asylum the next morning in perfect health, satisfied with the important data they've collected.

Just because the plot of Investigation 13 (the title refers to 12 previous paranormal investigations that have all been inconclusive) has been seen dozens of times before doesn't mean it couldn't be effectively executed. But director and co-writer Krisstian de Lara does an abysmal job of generating scares or constructing a cohesive plot, and the movie fails to make use of even its exceedingly meager resources. A few splashes of very fake-looking blood are about as gruesome or scary as anything gets in Investigation 13, and De Lara relies on crude animatics for the extensive flashbacks to the asylum's history, suggesting, as one Letterboxd commenter pointed out, that the production ran out of money and was forced to use its own storyboards in the finished movie.

Whether those animated sequences were a deliberate artistic choice or a financial necessity, they're still incredibly ugly and amateurish, sketchy drawings that almost never actually move, layered with stilted voiceover. The acting from the onscreen performers isn't much better, and even genre legend Meg Foster (They Live, The Lords of Salem, Masters of the Universe) doesn't add much to the movie in her brief appearance as the creepy caretaker. Star Stephanie Hernandez spends the entire movie in a distracting, ill-fitting wig, and the male actors mostly just petulantly snipe at each other. In the grand tradition of micro-budget direct-to-video thrillers, the majority of the action involves slowly skulking around poorly lit corridors.

The boogeyman of the asylum is a former inmate named Leonard Craven (Peter Aratari), who is also nicknamed the Mole Man for reasons that I could never quite figure out. It's not clear if Leonard is meant to be a ghost or just a deranged murderer, but he's pretty corporeal for a ghost, and he'd have to be close to 80 years old (according to the movie's timeline) if he had just been hanging out in the abandoned building all this time. Either way, with his tight black clothing, stringy black hair and steampunk-style goggles, the Mole Man looks more like the singer of an industrial metal band than a possibly immortal psychopath. He's about as unimpressive as horror-movie villains get, which makes the promise in the movie's IMDb summary (presumably written by the filmmakers themselves) of a whole Mole Man franchise about as laughable as everything else in this worthless movie.