What I'm Watching: The Vessel
I have a confession to make; I kinda love haunted prison stories. At least, in theory. Prisons are such bleak places, such stark places, such *terrible* places, where so many terrible things happen, and with the cells, and atmosphere, they should be the *perfect* spot for a good old ghost story.
Sadly, the promise of such never quite seems to materialise, does it?
The Vessel is another haunted prison story, and it too doesn't quite hit the mark.
After one Professor Samsa and his foundation has used DNA evidence to at long last prove the innocence of a convicted felon, who died tragically, he and his team head to the closed and supposedly haunted prison. For shits and giggles and finding ghosts, although that always seems at odds with the Samsa Foundation's goals of clearing criminals.
"The Samsa Foundation! Dedicated to proving your dead dad's innocence...and speaking to his ghost!" Yeah, no.
Still, Samsa takes his team, and has one of them call up an estranged friend, Jason (Yay!), who has a secret or three. The most important one, the one that Samsa has learned about, is that Jason is a vessel, a person who can easily carry and be possessed by spirits, like he's been doing for his dead friend Frank, the reason for his estrangement from his friend working for Samsa.
Oh yeah, that's a bit of a spoiler, but you can pretty much figure out Jason's "I see dead people" schtick from the second or third scene you have with Frank.
Naturally, Jason's gonna get possessed by SOME evil spirit in the prison, and it just so happens he gets possessed first by the guy Samsa found innocent, and the pair struggle to keep Jason's body out of the clutches of a third spirit, another older, angrier one, that had last possessed the innocent guy way back when, making him seem more guilty than he was.
Which of course leads to a pile of dead bodies made up of Samsa's team by the end of the flick.
I really love the multiple layers of that story. It coulda just been a straight up evil killer possession, but the plot swerves around to keep you guessing, and it works fairly well.
Finding out whose body the evil spirit Tanner eventually ends up in is a great twist, and the story definitely delivers on that account. The movie is pretty great in the broad strokes, but the details really REALLY kill it.
First of all, it should be no surprise that the acting here isn't great. It's not terrible either, but it's a small indie movie, and it is what it is. Everyone at least gives a fairly believable performance.
The worst out of the bunch though is Hector, the Mexican cellmate of the innocent inmate. Not so much for his acting, but because of how he comes off as pretty much THE MOST stereotypical Mexican you could possibly imagine. Cheech and Chong would cringe at this guy. It settles down a bit as the movie goes on, especially as he gets fleshed out, but the first few lines out of his mouth are downright painful, and Hector never really recovers.
As if Hector wasn't bad enough, some of the girls are there for nothing more than titilation. Which is something you're gonna get in horror movies, unfortunately, but this movie is pretty shameless about it. It's not just in the sense of the audience's entertainment, but the movie actually goes out of its way to have the members of Samsa's team say flat out that the girls are there for titilation and to be used as bait for the spirits. That's just downright disgusting, and I hope it says more about the *characters* and less about the filmmakers, because ew. The filmmakers share some of the brunt of that responsibility though, because they could have still gone that route while making the women actual characters in their own rights and not just scream machines.
Also, Samsa's motivations get a bit dodgy as the movie goes on. He dedicates his life to clearing criminals via DNA evidence, but then doesn't have any trouble shoving a guy into a cell who's already served his time, if it serves Samsa's own goals. He comes right out and says it's fine, he's used to it. This is a guy who wants to get people out of prison if they're innocent, but will shove a guy who's done his time right back into a cell, just for reasons? More ugh.
The deaths are fun, but end up feeling way too fakey and planned out. If you've ever seen stunt rehearsals, before they get used to the moves and ramp things up? You know how they take things just that tiny bit slowly? And it LOOKS fake because there's no real impact or speed to it? Yeah, these stunts all look like that, with that slow, planned, underrehearsed feel to them. Which is a shame, but understandable for a movie of this sort.
Still, the plot isn't half bad, the lead characters stand out amongst the crowd and even stand on their own in the world of horror movies, not quite existing as pure cliches. The story's not too overdone, and comes at the ideas from a place all its own, so this movie isn't terrible.
But there are far too many places where it stumbles, and far too many things that are just downright *problematic* to the point of harming the movie. If you can get past the problematic elements, and I would not blame you in the *least* if you could not, this movie actually offers up a solid story with okay acting that clocks in at just over 80 minutes, which is just about the right amount of time for this sort of thing.
While I can't quite recommend it, I can't quite say avoid at all costs either. Consider this review your warning and your recommendation.