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Spookers [2017] by Florian Habicht

A heartwarming mental illness horror documentary about community.

I would never attend the horror attraction Spookers and I would not have seen this film if I was not already familiar with the delightful and charming work of its director, Florian Habicht. Perhaps he has reached the limit of what his light and spontaneous approach is capable of accommodating. The only intention seems to be heart-warming and pleasant, and this seems to work when you're depicting falling in love on the streets of New York or getting excited about attending a pop concert, but when it comes to grotesque gore and violence, it is really not cute.

What I came to expect from the marketing is that the blood and horror of the Spookers attraction was to be intercut with the employees talking about how they found a peculiar feeling of family and home, self-expression and acceptance. Intercutting laughing, smoking and applying make-up with the horror element sounds harmless enough, diffusing the violence with the lightness and joy with which it is delivered. But it is extremely naïve to think that we as viewers don't respond to that imagery in primal and negative ways.

It is still up for debate whether or not horror films are effectively cathartic or desensitising to real-life violence. This film absolutely does not deal with these themes at all. Despite briefly talking about some Spookers attendees who become legitimately terrified and even showing footage of some almost catatonic person being gently escourted out, why an audience would want to expose themselves to this violent horror and terror is not addressed. It is fine to offer a fun and superficial film, an advertisement for the community of freaks who feel at home at Spookers, but the film attempts to address some of the deeper issues below the surface.

It is briefly mentioned that the site of Spookers used to be a psychiatric hospital where many patients were isolated for decades and severely mistreated and one of the patients is even interviewed. Some of the cast of Spookers have experienced severe mental health issues themselves or distressingly witnessed it in their family. The possibility is mentioned that Spookers may be ridiculing these real experiences or that it is reinforcing stigmatising myths about mental illness in general, but there is no depth whatsoever in the discussion. Once these serious and emotionally moving topics are introduced, the film just cuts back to more grotesque and vapid scenes of horror. I suppose this is intended to be amusing, but I found it rather upsetting. Having witnessed the traumatising possibilities of mental illness in my own intimate relationships, none of this is remotely amusing. It is naïve, irresponsible, superficial and just weak filmmaking.

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