As an exercise in 'creativity through adversity' it's difficult to take issue with the ambition and confidence of writer, director, and cinematographer Howard J. Ford. This DIY filmmaker has scripted and shot a contemporary horror-thriller that's premised on the very thing that’s dominated the cultural zeitgeist over the last year and more: the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown.
Ford deserves credit for bringing to the screen a movie that has immediate social resonance, and leverages the constraints of Covid restrictions as key plot points. This is, though, the main things that The Lockdown Hauntings has going for it. It lacks the clarity and sense of urgency essential to an effective shocker.
In the first weeks of lockdown, several young women living alone struggle to adjust to the isolation and the loss of normal life. For each of them, online communication tools become indispensable for keeping in touch with partners, family and friends. Yet through the long hours of solitary existence stuck indoors, several come to question their sanity. Not least as they begin to suffer the destructive attention of a suspected poltergeist. Their predicament (being 'locked down in a haunted home') is explained by an online vlogger, and specialist in all things occult, who's keen to share his expertise. He explains to anyone who cares to subscribe to his channel how the context of Covid has provided conditions in which nefarious spiritual forces can invade people's homes unseen.
The opening acts show a hidden presence disturbing the lives of lone individuals in lockdown across the city. Combined with drone shots of eerily empty urban streets, this is the film's strongest section. It's a juxtaposition of claustrophobic confinement with evocative images of depopulated urban streets that emphasises the feeling of personal vulnerability. Locked up in your own space, no-one can hear you scream. The sense of jeopardy is reinforced by the authorities' withdrawal from the public realm: the detective investigating these phenomena has to rely on the technologies of 'remote working'.
As the mystery of the hauntings unfolds, things don't gel quite as well as they should. For a drama about the miseries of isolation, there are too many characters vying for attention and too many narrative threads. And while the presence of Tony Todd (as the voice of exposition) gives some genre gravitas, his from-the-couch Zoom performance is far from being his best work. The strong sound design helps to deliver some of the film's key shots, and underscores the bloodier moments well. But at several points the mix oversells things to an absurd degree (a suitcase being unzipped by an invisible hand sounds more like the gates of Mordor being opened).
A British indie lockdown horror is the kind of movie that STARBURST readers should be be predisposed to like. But the context that made for a challenging shoot is not enough to secure a creative free pass. The Lockdown Hauntings is a laudable exercise in exploring the challenges of filmmaking during a pandemic, and it’s a creditable stab (albeit an over-enthusiastic one) at a present-day domestic horror. A sharper and shorter version of the same material, pared back to the essentials, might have convinced more members of its target audience to stay indoors and pay attention to this film. This is, after all, a horror fiction set in the alarming and unsettling world that we're only now beginning to escape from for real.
The Lockdown Hauntings is available now from digital outlets.