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HAUNTED (October 28th)


I decided to try something a little different tonight. Instead of watching a feature film I opted to binge watch a few episodes of a Netflix series that I have heard very mixed reviews on over the course of the last year or so. Haunted, which premiered on the streaming service at the back end of last year has currently finished it's second season. It's caused quite a bit of controversy too with some viewing the docudrama as a chilling retelling of personal supernatural experience whilst some have made no secret of their view that it's all a load of old bollocks. Documentary style horror is nothing new per se but it's still a relatively underused but quite effective format. It's like found footage's more respectable older brother. Films such as Lake Mungo, The Tunnel and Savageland have all utilised the talking heads concept to good effect – and even though all these are fictional, they've felt more realistic as a result. Haunted on the other hand is supposed to be true, which means that it could (and should) feel even more unsettling.

The truth is that it's a bit of a mixed bag and I'm saying that after only watching three episodes of the show – so I am aware there are a lot more episodes that could tip the balance either way. To give you a brief insight into how the show works, an individual or group of people talk about a shared paranormal experience they have had in the past – and this is interspersed with reconstructed events and scenes as described by the victims. It's kind of like people gathered around a fire at camp telling each other ghost stories. There are two possible alternatives when it comes to the authenticity of the series basically. One is that all of the talking heads are actors and what we are seeing is all scripted and everything we are seeing is scripted. Or that the talking heads are genuine and are actually recounting things that happened to them. Whether or not they are telling the truth is another matter. But the fact the show chooses to omit information that would make some of these cases traceable, things like locations, dates and people's full names – makes it all feel a little bit dubious. I'm still unsure as to where I stand with this because all three episode felt slightly different.

I stupidly began watching season 2 (instead of the first season) and the first episode was called 'The Mimic'. Here a college student recounts her experiences of moving into a 'historic' house with some of her friends. Soon after moving in she begins to hear what sound like the voices of her friends calling her, however this was going on when there was no one else in the house with her. Is she hallucinating the whole thing? When her boyfriend and another new housemate have similar disturbing experiences, it seems as if she's not losing her mind. This episode starts out quite well and the reconstructions are quite creepy to be honest. But by the end the whole thing feel pretty far fetched and I left it wondering who on earth decided to sell this as a 'true story'

The second episode was 'Ward of Evil' and this one was actually really quite unnerving at times. Again, I left it feeling rather cynical about whether or not I was watching real people or actors discuss the events but the reconstructions were so well done that it didn't really matter too much. A new patient arrives at a nursing home but within a few days her behaviour starts to become rather unsettling. She would growl and talk in unfamiliar languages and would even attack her carers. The nursing home employees soon become convinced that this woman is possessed by something evil. Kudos to the directors of this one because it had a real oppressive and quietly disturbing feel to it. The 'possessed' woman in the flashbacks is actually really really quite frightening. There's a lingering sense of dread every time she's on the screen. I'd love for this one to be actually based on 'real events' but again, without corroborating evidence it's impossible to determine.

The third episode was 'Cult of Torture' and although this didn't really involve any real supernatural elements, it was probably the most shocking as it felt more plausible than the two before it. Here, torture-trauma survivor James Swift (yes, he's a real person!) tells his story of growing up in a Christian doomsday cult in Louisiana. This cult, The Worldwide Church of God, actually existed and were indeed involved in some horrid stuff back a few decades back. Swift's parent joined the cult when he was a kid but it wasn't long before church officials had decided that his effeminate behaviour needed to be 'cured'. So he was isolated for long periods, denied food and drink, sexually assaulted by his own mother. You know, the usual sick culty stuff. At the age of 15 he was sent to the New Bethany Home for Boys where his ordeal was even worse. This was tough to watch because you knew that this stuff happened – and Swift's emotional recounting of events made it even more powerful. The supernatural stuff undoubtedly has the potential to make the hairs on your neck stand on end but the horrid shit that the human race inflicts on itself is just as scary.

All in all, an interesting series with some really good horror elements – and that packs an emotional punch at times too. If only we knew for sure that they were all told in good faith!

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