This house is under seige by the worst ghosts of all - the ghosts of Kabuki!Jason and Sarah examine the barn beside the house. As they sort through the piles of junk strewn about and discuss why Jason feels after meeting Sarah thirty minutes ago that she would never make it in politics, some random dirty guy leaps out of the shadows and tries to knock Jason's camera away. It's amazing, but every malevolent entity in this entire movie seems to be entirely devoted to destroying that camera. We quickly cut to the dirty guy being taken away by the police. Notice how they cleverly skip how the man was apprehended. Jennifer says she knows who the guy was - he was a student of her mother and a teacher to her. A teacher of what, we'll never know. I can only assume he taught her the fine art of pretending to be psychic, since she doesn't seem to knowledgeable on any other subject. She also doesn't seem to have any legitimate psychic powers. When they all go down into the basement for the seance, she can't seem to contact any spirits. Meanwhile, Laurel's crew (yes, he brought a crew of other workers, we just never see any of them) is up to their ears in spirits. Laurel gets one message after another on his official Professor-Grade walkie talkie from members of his crew saying that they're hearing strange noises on the upper floors. After Jennifer, Sarah, and Jason all tell Laurel multiple times that there's nothing they can do in the basement and that they should go see what the crew is talking about, Laurel finally makes the executive decision - all on his own, mind you - to go upstairs. As soon as they get up there, someone runs past the camera screaming. Laurel chases after the mysterious person, but does not catch him. Digging into his wealth of paranormal knowledge, he proclaims this act to be the work of "darn kids." So that's another mystery solved by Doc Obvious.
After they see Jennifer cross herself in public, Sarah and Jason get wrapped up in a debate about the nature of God. Now, it would be impossible for me to capture the true eloquence of their words even if I recreated the entire debate verbatim, so rather than butcher a masterpiece, allow me to give you the bare bones:
Sarah: "There is a Gawd."
Jason: "No there isn't."
Woo! Man, that took a lot out of me, emotionally speaking. Sarah is so enamored by Jason's ability to ridicule her deep-seated spiritual beliefs that she accompanies him back to his room for the night. There, Jason "accidentally" leaves the camera on and positions it so the shot frames them both perfectly. Now that's a coincidence! I'm sure it's also an accident that Sarah puts down the handle of vodka they've been drinking from exactly in the center of the frame. Jason finally manages to piss Sarah off, but when she starts to leave, he gets her to stay by telling her a story of how his parents died in a car crash and his mother bled to death right on top of him. Ah, the pity card. Where would men be without you? Now that Jason has put Sarah in the mood to party by telling her all about the gruesome deaths of his family, he pressures her into smoking some weed. I'm so glad this guy's our main character. He's just so charming. They each take one tiny puff off of a joint and declare themselves to be totally wasted. Then comes the sex. Just when things start to get good, Jason slyly turns off the camera, which he told Sarah was already off. He's one smooth operator.
Hey Sarah, nice blanket. Oh, by the way, who the fuck are those two guys behind you?
The next day, Laurel informs everyone that he has sent the crew away and that he is locking the four of them inside the house for the remaining two days of their trip. This is presumably so that he can study the effects of his being completely fucking nuts on other people. Jason doesn't mind the idea, though, because he's too busy being an asshole to Sarah. Now that they've had sex, he brushes her off entirely. Hey, go for it, Jason! It's not like you're about to be locked inside a building with her for two straight days or anything! That won't be awkward in the least! Also, Sarah starts complaining that she's feeling a little sick. No one in the movie raises this question, but I'm going to: Jason, have you been tested for STD's lately? I'm sorry, but it's just a little too much of a coincidence that Sarah starts getting sick right after they have sex. Something's up.
If you were left aching for more after the spiritual and intellectual marathon of Sarah and Jason's debate over the existence of God, just hold onto your hats. Professor Laurel and Jennifer get into a debate over the same topic. Now it's not just students, though. Now we're watching an argument between an accredited professor and a professional psychic. Here's a summary of this epic meeting of the minds:
Jennifer: "There is a God."
Laurel: "No there isn't."
Whoa! Man, that was crazy! A little later, Laurel finds a message painted on one a wall that is a perfect copy of something that was written on a wall when the house was still an asylum. So not only is there graffiti inside the house, but there was graffiti there before the place was ever abandoned. You know, bit by bit, Jason's friend's theory is being shot to shit. This of course prompts more longwinded exposition about the history of the house, all stuff that really should have come up in the first place. There are countless asylums across the United States, and no one thinks they're all haunted. But only now does Sarah reveal that inmates disappeared from Strawberry Estates and that the former owner of the place used to abuse the inmates and possibly even used them as human sacrifices in satanic rituals. Now we're building a solid foundation for some hauntings! You'd think that if that was the legend behind the house, that's the part that everyone would know. Strawberry Estates is supposed to be well known in the area (not unlike the Blair Witch, eh?), and yet, all of these facts that one would assume would be at the heart of the legend come as a surprise to Jason. Oh well. Maybe he's just an idiot.
Jennifer eyes the script carefully. "Could my lines really be that badly written," she wonders. Yes, Jennifer, yes they could.
That night, Jennifer holds another seance to try to find some of the spirits that dwell within the house. This time, she finds what she is looking for. Wait, I'm sorry I meant to say, she finds what she is looking at. Jennifer dramatically enacts her contact with this spirit by staring off camera at one fixed location, which is in no way, shape, or form someone holding up the script. She says she's looking at a walking corpse with all of the enthusiasm you or I might use to say we are looking at an umbrella stand. And not a particularly exciting umbrella stand, either. She continues to narrate what she supposedly sees, including the approach of dozens of angry spirits. She says she's scared, but even then, she keeps talking in the same flat monotone that makes all of this supernatural action seem about as exciting as a trip to the Pottery Barn. Imagine watching the rooftop shootout from the Matrix with your seventh grade science teacher leaning over to you and narrating the action: "Neo is shooting now. The agent is dodging. It is like there are more than one of him, but at the same time not really. Then he shoots. Neo bends over." Sort of sucks the fun right out, doesn't it? Jennifer then concludes that the spirits all hate her personally, and to justify this statement, she uses one of the worst similes in the history of the English language:
"They're all staring at me. It's like they're looking through a window... right at me."
I'm sorry, what? Could someone please explain the difference between having a bunch of people stare at you and having a bunch of people stare at you through a nonexistent window? For the rest of the day, whenever you look at someone, I want you to visualize yourself looking at them through a window and see if they say, "Hey, Goober! Stop looking through a window... right at me!" Anyway, Professor Laurel uses this window thing to catapult him to a new, scientifically grounded theory - the reason there are so many spirits in the house that hate Jennifer is because the vast demonic armies of Hell have spilled from the Fiery Pit of Eternal Damnation and are amassing in the spirit world to do battle on Earth. Man, it has to feel good to be a recognized expert in a field so you can make ridiculous claims based on loose shreds of evidence from batty women. I can't wait until I get my degree in English so I can look at two versions of Romeo and Juliet and say, "This version says 'plague o'er both your houses' while this version says 'pox!' This is clearly a sign that the vast demonic armies of Hell have spilled from the Fiery Pit of Eternal Damnation and are amassing in the spirit world to do battle on Earth!" That'll be nice.
Once Laurel gets comfortable inside his shiny new demon theory, he rides it as far as he can, eventually hypothesizing that Satan himself is getting ready to ascend to Earth. I'm no Paranormal Studies major, but I'm just about positive that even if that were true, it wouldn't be anywhere near Laurel's jurisdiction. Demons and angels fighting, Satan conquering the planet - that's all firmly within the territory of the East Asian Studies department. Meanwhile, Sarah continues to get sicker. She goes to talk to Jason in his room, and he lends her a sympathetic ear by accusing her of being pissy because Laurel isn't screwing her anymore and telling her that just because they slept together doesn't mean they're in a relationship. Look out, Steve McQueen! Jason's coming to steal all the ladies' hearts!
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
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