Cinema purists everywhere would probably keep themselves awake at night thinking of all the people in the world who only watch movies on their phones and tablets, and I’d love to know what the general consensus is about the indie film Haunting Melissa, the first cinematic project to ever be developed specifically for viewing on mobile devices. And if you can’t tell from the name Haunting Melissa or the innovative way of viewing it, this is a horror film.
But a horror film that is in no way as innovative as its presentation, at least as far as Part 1 tells it. You see, Haunting Melissa isn’t a narrative that the filmmakers want you to run through all at once, and it will update every so often, alerting viewers through notifications that different parts of the film are available. The first twenty minutes or so released as one chunk this weekend, and you can go to the film’s website to get the app so you can dig in for yourself, or just go to the app store on your phone or tablet.
I say dig in, but this is some sincerely shallow storytelling. The film is the first directorial project from Neal Edelstein, a producer on films such as The Ring and The Ring 2 its sequel, and was last seen working on that long-shelved 6 Souls mental thriller that came out in March. It’s really surprising that Edelstein hasn’t been involved with any cheapo found footage horror films, because Haunting Melissa looks just like one of the many Paranormal Activity knock-offs that have plagued direct-to-video releases ever since, really.
Optimal viewing is in a dark room with headphones on, and it’s ridiculous to think about watching it any other way, as much of the footage takes place in dimly lit rooms with people talking fairly quietly. And by footage, I just mean a conversation between Melissa and some guy via video chat, and then Melissa and her friend walking around her house with a video camera. Melissa thinks her house is haunted. The guy seems to care very little, while the friend seems to care too much.
The direction, whenever the camera actually moves, is quite boring, and the only moments that really matter are near the end of the video, when something resembling a discovery is made. If this film has done anything, it has made me wary about giving away spoilers for the first twenty minutes of a film, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. This is essentially most of the first act of a normal horror movie, so you know what’s up.
There’s no set schedule to Haunting Melissa's clever release plan, which is meant to keep viewers on their toes, always waiting for more, and future videos are not locked into a specific length either, so you might get a five minute clip or another big chunk like this. And apparently if you go back and watch a part you’ve already seen, the video could change to fill in more of the story, allowing for a slightly different experience. I absolutely love everything about this project and promotion except for the film itself. But that could change with later videos. And don’t let my Grumpy Gus attitude hold you back. Check the app out and let us know what you think in the comments. Check out the trailer below for a more visual litmus test.