The Marsh (2006) / Horror-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for violence, disturbing images, and some language
Running Time: 89 min.
Cast: Gabrielle Anwar, Forest Whitaker, Justin Louis, Niamh Wilson, Peter MacNeill
Director: Jordan Baker
Screenplay: Michael Stokes
Gabrielle Anwar (The Guilty, My Little Assassin) plays Claire, a successful writer of children's books, who has been having a recurring nightmare involving a strange country house, creepy-looking people, and an ominous-looking marsh. She later discovers that the place is real, and heads out there to the actual location in order to find out just what the reason for her nightmares might be. What were just nightmares now manifest themselves in real-life ghosts that haunt her waking moments, and with the help of the town reporter (Louis, Prom Night II) and a local paranormal investigator of sorts (Whitaker, Phone Booth), she aims to get to the bottom of the mystery that cuts to the core of the town's deepest, darkest secrets.
The Marsh is a generic Canadian horror-suspenser, overloaded with clichéd plot devices, such as the eerie young girl, the scary images that lurk behind characters whenever they look in mirrors, and supporting characters that merely exist to eventually get dispatched by the creepy ghosts that chase around the main protagonist in ways that never really make any sense. It's not the worst example of this sort of film, but it is grossly redundant in the genre, and without a unique hook to keep us reeled in, it's as instantly forgettable as they come.
Horror flicks revolving around hauntings are always a bit contrived, as the plot necessitates that the main characters must never try to flee the premises when things get truly scary. Not once does Claire ever question her own sanity, taking the visions immediately at face value, instantly assuming a posture of plausibility that only happens in half-baked horror films such as this. Usually there's a traumatic mystery that the hero needs to unravel to make the ghosts disappear, and momentum almost always dissipates once you find out just what's behind all of the hullabaloo. The Marsh is a prime example of one of these films that goes into a freefall toward the end, revealing most things we've already predicted would happen long before the halfway point, while also going trying to play the audience with a twist.
The problems with The Marsh stem almost completely from the script by Michael Stokes, whose long career has yet to produce anything of note (his most popular film is Iron Eagle IV, if that's any indicator). Jordan Baker's (My Brother's Keeper) direction is stylish and visually appealing, but without quality characterizations and a good story to tie things together, there's not enough flashiness in the world that can spark life into such a stale premise. The horrific visions are mild and not particularly scary -- most of the jumps occur through shrill music notes and random jump-scares. The tech specs (special FX, lighting, cinematography) are modestly impressive. On the acting side, Anwar and Whitaker (who must have needed a paycheck) do perform well, as does a mostly no-name supporting cast, but it's all a waste.
If you've seen your share of horror movies in the last five years, you've seen everything The Marsh has to offer already. Even if you haven't, you aren't missing much. The more it tries to generate terror, the more laughable it gets. Soggy concepts bog this one down.
©2007 Vince Leo