By Ewan Marmo-Bissell, Second Year, History
The first feature to be screened at Bristol Rebel Film Festival is a mockumentary following a David Brent style character following paranormal activity.
‘The power of Christ compels thee! And thee!’
The titular South African spook hunter who so gloriously occupies most of the screen time of this movie is called Matty who represents, at least to me, a fundamental spirit of good in a bad old world. He’s slobbish and sometimes adolescent but carries a real moral goodness, a wide-eyed certainty in what he believes in and what is worth standing up for. It’s up to him and his trusty, unseen camera man Jono to investigate some spooky activity down in Wandsworth.
Youtube / SA Spook Hunter
Initially, Spook Hunter seems to fall into the vein of its mockumentary trail blazers like The Office (2001-2003). Matty comes across like David Brent in his naivety and humour, but never falls into the malicious behavioural patterns of the former. Instead Matty, played by the effervescent Matt van Niftrik, becomes increasingly likeable rather than detestable like Brent, and forms his own unique, brilliant, and almost tragic character all at once. Van Niftrik is a joy to watch as Matty as he nails every comedic beat, and turns the film entirely from a mockumentary into a seemingly genuine piece that it feels like Matty himself has made and uploaded to his YouTube channel.
The gist of it is this – Matty is a part-time plumber and part-time spook hunter, and we’re introduced his world of delightfully amateurish ghost hunting. We get a glimpse of his idols and it’s all hilarious. But as the narrative chugs along and he’s brought in to investigate demonic interference in a simple household, Spook Hunter grows out from a simply structured, feature length mockumentary and develops its ideas of personal value and material profit, and Matty is at the centre of it all. He is the driving force.
Photo courtesy of Rebel Film Festival
There is perhaps a criticism to be made about characters seeming unreal and ingenuine, thus making the whole exercise an effort to laugh at a ridiculous, fictional character, but our protagonist - maybe even hero - is treated with such authenticity that it never feels condescending at all. He’s surrounded by characters with more depth than you at first afford to them – the anti-love interest Amber, the troubled teen Paige, and the seemingly stock, naïve housewife who all come into their own.
It’s debatable if Spook Hunter sticks the landing, but at its core it remains the same charming, low budget production with a fundamental spirit of good, much in contrast to the demonic spirits of evil Matty battles with through the film. Kathryn MacCorgarry Gray and Daniel Rands, the joint directors, writers, editors and producers have delivered so much from so little here and the final product is golden from start to finish, when it easily could have fallen into a bitter take on ghost hunters. Instead, Spook Hunter is a gigglefest with a Fargo-like message, that plain old goodness is worth so much more than a little bit of money. Driven forward by Matt van Niftrik, it’s a must watch for anyone, check it out!
South African Spook Hunter is screening at Rebel Film Festival on Saturday February 23, 10.45am. Tickets are still available via the Rebel website.
Featured Image Credit: Photo courtesy of Rebel Film Festival
Are you prepared to face the frightening phantoms of Wandsworth?