The Post’s critics highlight original movies that are being streamed and made available on demand. Here are this week’s picks.
THE CASTLE PROJECT: COLORADO'S HAUNTED MANSION
Arriving just in time for some pre-Halloween fun, the documentary “The Castle Project: Colorado’s Haunted Mansion” is aimed squarely at fans of the Syfy channel’s haunted-house-themed “Ghost Hunters.” Centering on Denver’s Croke-Patterson Mansion, an 1891 building around which a legend of poltergeist activity has accrued, the film certainly bears strong similarities to the television series, including such high-tech tropes of the haunted-house genre as the night-vision bedroom cam and the mysterious, disembodied voice on the tape recorder (known as E.V.P., or “electronic voice phenomenon”).
One key difference: The guy who made the movie doesn’t really believe the place is haunted. Or does he?
Directed by Brian Higgins, the film was shot during a recent renovation of the castlelike structure by Higgins, an architect (and the building’s co-owner) whose slightly skeptical narration guides much of the film, giving it a less breathlessly credulous tone than the Syfy series. Most of the movie is structured around Higgins’s temporary residence in the building during its renovation, a period during which he sleeps under a “Paranormal Activity”-style night-vision camera, which captures — well, that would be spoiling the fun.
Higgins knows how to spin a good yarn, talking to various contractors, former residents and paranormal investigators who claim to have experienced strange phenomena and apparitions while living, working or otherwise poking around in the house. Some of the tales are genuinely eerie. Higgins himself eventually moves out after only a couple of weeks because he’s scared — not of ghosts, as it turns out, but of the fact that there are no working smoke detectors. Soon after, his fears are justified when a pile of painting supplies spontaneously combusts in the middle of the night, destroying much of the renovation.
Toward the end of the film, Higgins really stretches credulity by drawing connections between Colorado’s Garden of the Gods, a formation of red sandstone that supplied the original building material for the house, and art-historical representations of purgatory, some of which physically resemble such rock outcroppings. It’s tenuous stuff, but for those who are predisposed to believe in a shadow world of restless souls, it’s effective.
It’s tempting to view “The Castle Project” as an innkeeper’s cynical effort to capitalize on the building’s reputation as haunted. Now operating as a bed-and-breakfast under the name of the Patterson Inn, the mansion might well appeal to tourists who also want to spend the night in a haunted house. -- M.O.
Unrated. Contains obscenity, brief nudity, a dead cat and general spookiness. 75 minutes. Available through Amazon Instant and Hulu.
Zach Galifianakis delivers a bearish, downbeat performance in the 2008 movie “Visioneers,” a dystopian satire in which the future is a place where dreams go to die. (The film was recently made available for free viewing at Snagfilms.)
As a corporate drone named George Washington Winsterhammerman, Galifianakis embodies American ideals that filmmakers Jared and Brandon Drake predict will soon curdle into a mushy ethos of self-help, consumerism and mindless “productivity” for its own sake.
In George’s world, that means a drab office at the Jeffers Corporation, in which co-workers greet each other by giving the finger and are reminded every minute by a faceless voice how many hours are left until the weekend. He returns to a dreary McMansion where his wife (Judy Greer) watches television talk shows with glazed, worshipful dedication.
Taking a page from Mike Judge and Mike White before them, the Drake brothers put a low budget and some witty, imaginative ideas to resourceful use in “Visioneers,” in which guns and butter go from metaphors of prosperity to disturbingly literal linchpins of American society.
In this world “built of peace and plastic,” as one character puts it, George valiantly tries to find authentic love, a romantic search that doesn’t always jibe with the film’s socio-historical aspirations. “Visioneers” is a modest diversion, spiked with moments of inspired lunacy, and will provide ample rewards to Galifianakis completists. -- A.H.
If you missed the chance to see “La Source” when it screened locally at the 2012 Silverdocs festival, there’s finally another way to watch the eye-opening and heartening documentary from director Patrick Shen.
The title refers to a remote area of Haiti where, at the start of the film, villagers have two options for water: They can drink from a river where people bathe and wash their clothes and animals, or they can visit a mountain spring, which entails an hours-long journey of hiking and scrambling over rocks, not to mention balancing heavy buckets on the steep descent.
The documentary follows an industrious La Source native named Josue Lajeunesse, who works as a janitor at Princeton University, drives a cab at night and fills his free time with a mission to ensure his compatriots gain access to clean water. The film was shot shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and an ensuing cholera outbreak made Lajeunesse’s pursuit all the more time-sensitive.
The movie is worth watching for reasons both aesthetic and emotional. Shen frames his shots with care and has a gift for capturing nature, especially the arresting if unforgiving setting in Haiti. The content of the movie feels just as painstakingly selected, and the amount of amazing footage of people who look at ease with the cameras seems to indicate Shen took his time with the filming portion of his process.
More importantly, “La Source” gives faces to statistics that often seem abstract. With our myriad water fountains, spigots and filtration systems, it can be difficult to remember the plight of so much of the world’s population until you see onscreen the hard choice people must make between dirty water and treacherous climbs. Almost as importantly, it’s easy to forget how much good one irrepressible person can do until you see ideas and schematics transform into real solutions. -- S.M.
Unrated. Contains nothing objectionable. 71 minutes. Available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play and Hulu.