This is what the digital video revolution hath wrought: Community theater with national distribution. "Sarah Landon and the Paranormal Hour" is a dull little PG-rated spook story for tweener girls brought to us by the Comrie family of San Diego. Lisa directed, while her brothers Dan, Brian, and Rick are in the cast. As far as I know, Grandma was key grip.
On one level, these folks deserve our most sincere congratulations: They got a movie made outside the Hollywood system and it's playing in theaters. It's also good that someone's making gore-free suspense for younger audiences. But then we come to the movie itself, which at 81 minutes is amateur hour-and-a-half in too many respects.
The title teen, played by Rissa Walters, journeys to the small town of Pine Valley for a visit with Thelma Shaw (Jane Harris), the grandmother of a best friend recently killed in a car accident. Once in town, Sarah is subjected to a dizzying barrage of back-plot delivered by local actors enunciating very loudly.
Seems a curse is on the Baker family: son David (Brian Comrie) is expecting to die on his 21st birthday at the hands of the vengeful ghost of his uncle (Rusty Hanes), who blames David's mother for his own son's death. David's handsome brother Matt (Dan Comrie) scoffs at the supernatural, but Sarah's intrigued and starts snooping around. A sleepwalking old lady, a Mexican psychic (Sylvia Enrique), and a creepy neighborhood boy (Kendell Lindley) also figure into the story. When the director really wants to scare us, we get a close-up of the kid's yo-yo.
There's budget ambition: The handful of helicopter shots come across as triumphs, and Joseph Conlon's synthesizer score sounds almost like the real thing. The ear-numbing dialogue explains (and explains) rather than dramatizes, though, and the performances are earnest and flat. Walters is pleasantly unremarkable - give the Comries body-image points for casting a lead who's not a twig, but is it too much to ask for camera presence as well? Sarah comes across like Nancy Drew's slower sister, a teen detective who's been too long at the mall.
Eleven-year-old girls may find the movie chilling, especially in eek-y groups, but that may not be enough to sustain the director's ambitions. The film's Harry Potter-esque title is the tip-off; the promotional website touts this as "the first in a series of Sarah Landon mysteries." Well, good for Lisa Comrie and bonne chance. Might I suggest a copy of "Screenwriting for Dummies" and a casting agent who's not a relative?