An abandoned ghost town in the middle of nowhere, Texas? Sweet! Charismatic young entrepreneur Mark (Andrew C. Fisher) convinces his wife Jenna (Mandy Lee Rubio) that it’s the investment opportunity of a lifetime. They buy it, apparently sight unseen. The problem is that the town of Blackwood Falls has a long, ugly, and horrifying history. Worse, half the “ghost town” buildings are clearly recent construction so the town looks more like the result of a bored farmer with a construction hobby than an actual creepy, haunted town of terror. Ah, but there’s the rub because it is a terrifying place with ghosts and endless mysterious occurrences.
This is only something slowly revealed in the indie horror film A Town Full of Ghosts, however, partially because of the rather tired device of found footage and partially because there’s just not much meat on these storytelling bones. During the few days captured in the film, Mark’s video posts of their new home are apparently sufficient to gain him 500,000 followers, as he eagerly shares with his by-then freaked-out wife. But here’s one of many glitches in the story: He can upload video footage to the Internet to gain followers, but no one else can even get a cellular signal, particularly to call 9-1-1 when things get really weird?
And weird they get, because while Mark keeps having visions of Blackwood Falls as a huge tourist attraction with its own hotel, entertainment venues, etc, everyone else has since realized it’s a terrible idea. It’s not really a ghost town at all but it clearly is a ghastly investment that means Mark and Jenna are effectively homeless: They sold their house and her car to help finance the purchase. There’s an investor involved, but when he shows up (complaining that it was a 4-hour drive, as if he couldn’t have met via Zoom and had a tour through the Internet or, for that matter, just watched Mark’s video channel) he’s immediately upset by the junky spot and, after venting about how much time he’s wasted, is back in his car and out of the film in just a few minutes.
Before Disappointed Investment Man arrives, however, Mark’s cousin Justin (Ali Alkhafaji) has shown up, ready to help film some great footage of the town. Because it’s such a great date – “hey honey, wanna spend a few nights at my cousin’s new ghost town?” – he’s brought along his girlfriend Lisa (Lauren Lox). Bad idea. As things go further off the rails, Mark proves a very insensitive host who reacts with a, well, murderous rage to any negative feedback about his great ghost town attraction.
The only thing that makes the town at all interesting is a strange fence maze that sprawls between buildings. It’s smaller than your average corn maze but somehow it’s all too easy to get lost within. Worse, that’s where the ghostly spirits seem to hang out late at night, though it’s mostly Jenna who sees them as Mark continues to deny everything. This maze is underutilized in the film as it could have been a spot where much more strangeness occurs. After all, there’s a history of creepy mazes in horror films, including one in that great horror icon The Shining.
The story overall is pretty simple and because A Town Full of Ghosts relies on found footage, we see the same places over and over again. As is typical with this genre of indie horror, most of the time is actually spent waiting for something to happen. And it takes a long time for something to happen in the film.
That’s perhaps the greatest problem with this otherwise interesting, albeit rather unpolished, indie horror movie. It could have been framed as a film where only Mark sees the horrific images as everyone else becomes increasingly concerned for his mental health, for example, but instead, each of them sees something odd while everyone else tries to remain skeptical. Ideas also show up and are then abandoned, like a piano that plays music in the wee hours of the night, until someone walks into the not-very-abandoned saloon. What was happening? Who was playing it? Why didn’t Justin set up a motion capture camera in the saloon? Similarly, two teens are apparently murdered in the town just weeks prior to Mark and Jenna showing up. Why isn’t that something alarming for them to learn? There’s a quickly growing wasp’s nest in an alley; was that a metaphor for something being rotten in the town or just… a bunch of surprisingly mellow wasps who don’t sting anyone, however close they get?
Ultimately this is the kind of B-movie horror film that you have to sit through at a film festival waiting for the real gem to show up on the screen. It’s not terrible, but there’s a lot of potential squandered, from Mark’s enthusiasm for a clear bust of an idea to the idea of a live-streamed haunting to the question of who found the footage and what else did they find? I look forward to better work from writer/director Isaac Rodriguez and the crew. In the meantime, we’ll mark A Town Full of Ghosts down as a lot of good ideas that didn’t quite materialize into a viable horror film.