A group of millennials experimenting with a spiritually guided App successfully connect to the other-world and are ultimately guided to The Preston Castle. This ominous, historic site of murder and torture is connected to each of them in ways they’ll soon discover, thanks to the dead. The film is based on the shockingly true events of The Preston School of Industry.

Starting with a mother being violent towards her two children before one of them takes extreme action, Apparition (or APParition) is one of those “based on” where it’s best not look at the details to see what happened at Preston School of Industry and just work your way through the 80 minutes of nonsense that you’re about to experience.

In 1995, the two children are at The Preston School of Industry, a correctional school run by burly, cruel and strict officers who have very little to do apart from being burly, cruel and strict. With almost pantomime glee, the guards carry out their business, terrorising their young wards, although it’s difficult to particularly care much for proceedings. 

Early in the film, we’re introduced to Anna (Mena Suvari), who is, we can assume, based on the real-life Anna Corbin, the head housekeeper who was found murdered in the house. She’s a kind person and Suvari eeks out all the emotion she can from the script. Her acts of kindness call her to the attention of Warden White (Kevin Pollak) who chews his way through his scenes, serving a hammy performance with a double-serving of cheese. It’s not that either Suvari or Pollak are turning in sub-standard performances, it’s that they’re delivering from a sub-standard script.

A murder at the correctional facility sees Anna try to escape and a guard attempt to quit his job.  Both knew the place was a bad one but didn’t think to do anything about it until this point, of course.  Thankfully, we get to skip over this to the present day where Warden White is running through a wedding rehearsal and we get introduced to a bunch of young people who are largely stereotypes – jock, business guy, nerd, queen bee – and they’re a bit of a fractured group as they end up investigating White’s former role, encouraged by an app that the nerdy (and obviously social awkward) Sam happens to have just created (with a bunch of technobabble to make us believe it).

This central idea of the film is an interesting one.  Technology and the supernatural have been brought together effectively by a number of horror films – One Missed Call, Pulse, Ring, and many others. This is, however, not one of them.

Practically every scene in the film screams of an amateur production – the uneven camerawork disappoints and the performances, beyond Pollak and Suvari, swing from dull to cliche thanks to a script that can’t settle on a tone for delivery.  There are segments of exposition that are ladened with unnecessary drama and scenes that should be tense (at least, that’s what the soundtrack would have us believe) that fall flat and lifeless.

The haunted house conceit is one that has been used heavily in horror films for decades and there’s plenty of examples of those taking place in former institutions to use as a template. Apparition manages to offer nothing to the genre; not just nothing new, but nothing at all. Even as we see the nightmares that stalk the halls, it’s difficult to be anything but indifferent towards the plight of the dislikeable cast of cliches and the fate that befalls them.

If there was one shining light in this dismal experience, it’s that some of the set design in Preston School of Industry itself is interesting. The architecture, in California, is an impressive, imposing building that certainly has an ominous presence and it’s impossible not to be drawn to such a structure.  It’s just a shame that the film around it is so disappointingly pedestrian.

Dir: Waymon Boone

Scr: Mark S Allen, Waymon Boone, Howard Burd, Rob Rose

Cast: Mena Suvari, Kevin Pollak, Jon Abrahams, Megan West

Prd: Mark S Allen, Howard Burd

DOP: Dante Yore

Country: USA

Year: 2019

Runtime: 79 mins

APPARITION will be available on Digital Download from 10th February