Haunting at the Beacon (2011)
Director: Michael Stokes
Writers: Michael Stokes
Starring: Teri Polo, David Rees Snell and Elaine Hendrix

The Plot: Bryn (Teri Polo) and Paul Shaw (David Rees Snell) are a married couple looking to dramatically change their surroundings. The couple are still coping with the recent death of their child and decide to move into the illustrious Beacon apartment building. As Paul begins to settle down into his new job as an astronomy professor, Bryn finds herself having to contend with a lot of free time. As she wanders around this old building she starts to discover some very strange happenings. She continually hears the sound of a woman being beaten next door, and worst of all she keeps seeing a little boy wandering the hall and then disappearing. Her husband feels that she is on the verge of having another nervous breakdown, but Bryn suspects that something supernatural is happening… and she isn’t wrong.

The Review
The Haunting at the Beacon is another in a long line of horror titles to infiltrate the North American marketplace that seems to owe a great debt to the J-Horror boom of the early 2000s. Films such as Ringu, Dark Water, and Ju-On forever changed the horror genre and completely re-invigorated the classic “ghost” story. These movies often used characters from modern society but used classic motifs and archetypes that were developed around camp fires and in traditional storytelling settings. The familiarity has proven to be a part of the charm, but in recent years it seems that the genre has run its course. However, as you will learn from any genre-boom that comes or goes, there are always a few “classics” that act as stragglers during the death of any big fad. Is this one instance of a really great title sneaking up on audiences when they least expect it? Not exactly, however The Haunting at the Beacon turns out to be a serviceable ghost story that may be low on originality but is high on talent.

A very large aspect of the movie, that can be seen as both a compliment or a detriment, is its very large assortment of characters. While the movie does become a bit overwrought in the number of secondary players that are introduced, I generally like the variety of characters that populate the cast. Although most are highly generalized and based upon stereotypes, the film really goes all-out in providing a laundry list of interesting characters. The protagonist of course fits into the famous horror-movie role of a leading woman on the verge of losing her mind. Just think: Orphan, Rosemary’s Baby, or any supernatural thriller focusing on a female lead. Other great, albeit typical, characters include: the b-movie actress who moonlights as a sexual predator, the southern gentleman down the hall who has a wisecrack for everything, the professor husband who is close to abandoning his “sick” wife and of course you have the nerdy co-worker of the professor who happens to have all of the exposition you could ever need. You rarely run into an assortment of characters quite like this outside of a slasher movie, but in the confines of this project I found that everything seemed to click. This strange assortment of characters actually gives life to what could have inevitably been a rather bland film.

The cast that fills out these roles are quite talented. Although it may not be an A-list picture, there are some decent size names involved in this one. Teri Polo is an actress who has been tied to some big Hollywood productions in the past, but it’s a shame that she has had few times to express her talents in truly challenging roles that were on as large of a scale as something like Meet the Parents. Haunting at the Beacon isn’t exactly Oscar award winning material, but Polo does put in a truly emotional performance that proves to be leaps and bounds ahead of this production. The actress manages at least one truly gut-wrenching emotional breakdown in the picture that perfectly explains the inner turmoil of her character. Is this really necessary for a ghost movie? Probably not, but kudos to the actress for stepping up to the plate and leaving such a revealing performance, even if it is in a product that is probably undeserving of it. The fan-favorite Michael Ironside also shows up in a very small, and thankless, role as a beat-cop who wanders in and out of the story. Despite the lack of Ironside, his small appearances are enough to give a certain amount of credibility to the project.

The visual palette for the movie is a bit up and down. While a movie such as this one yearns for a moody and dark atmosphere, it is unfortunately shot in a rather generic tone for the most part. There are scenes which are completely the opposite, of course, and seem to be smothered in atmosphere and moodiness, but those scenes seem to be few and far between. When the movie is firing on all cylinders, the director manages to craft a very fine looking film that does a lot with its suspense. During those best moments the “scares” are built using a decent amount of finesse, and the overall product really starts to work. However, it all seems to be too little, too late, and the “scares” don’t get the reactions that they probably should. Still, the movie does deliver a tense pace and a crafty little narrative throughout. The ultimate payoff for the movie is the series of twists and turns that come about during the final twenty minutes. While the movie plays by a very generic rulebook up until the conclusion, they did manage to put together a very sordid series of twists that caught me, as a viewer, off guard. I hate even publicizing the “twists”, because its ultimately much more rewarding going into the picture knowing very little about them. Many will walk away confused and angry by the rather bizarre twists that come about, but it actually added a full point to the rating for me.

The Conclusion
While I wouldn’t go calling Haunting at the Beacon a great piece of modern horror, it does its job and certainly seems above the standard-line amongst other direct-to-video horror titles. Teri Polo makes the film worth watching based entirely on her “above and beyond the call” performance. I give the movie a solid three out of five.