A fun, old-fashioned ghost story called “Spirit Cabinet” premiered at this year’s Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival, breezing in amidst a slew of slasher flicks and zombie movies with the snappy wit and ambience of an “Amazing Stories” episode. This micro-budget delight follows eight people who gather in a historic old home in the Bronx to attend a séance after Lily (Marian Brock) becomes convinced that the spirit of her mother, who was recently killed in a car crash, is still hanging around. Enter Marina (Marina Franklin), an aspiring journalist whose abrasive, short-tempered boss Trevor (Mickey Ryan), who used to work with Lily’s mom, promises great things for her career if she can help him debunk the psychic (Mina Sands) and her creepy assistant Erroll (Joseph Francini). Tagging along is Marina’s long-time friend Gideon (Jun Naito), a perky pastry chef who’s hoping his relationship with Marina will develop into something romantic, but who’s really just being used as a “stand-in” for her boyfriend to fill out the roster.
Writer M. Sweeney Lawless establishes the film’s tone with quick-witted dialogue and complex characters, which transcend some of the film’s obvious twists, and director Jay Stern (read our interview here) seems to use the confines of the house as an additional character rather than just a prop, which lends a rather sinister undertone to the picture. As the story progresses and opinions over the validity of Lily’s claims, as well her use of a medium to try to communicate with her mother, are divided into different camps, it becomes apparent that this film is as much a mystery – and perhaps a comedy – as it is a supernatural thriller (think “Stir of Echoes”, R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” and an Agatha Christie novel all rolled into one). Lily is desperate to find answers, while her stoner boyfriend David (Paul Herbig) seems either ambivalent or just completely oblivious. Marina, who’s desperate for a job, is skeptical but not entirely dismissive, while Gideon seems to make an immediate, somewhat mysterious connection with Ramona, the psychic. Trevor, who’s in attendance with his sweetheart of a wife Helen (Mary Micari), makes it clear that he’ll do anything to prove that Ramona is a hoax, including filming the entire event.
“Spirit Cabinet” is a clever, subtly humorous (and yes, sometimes creepy) movie that feels a lot like watching actors performing in an off-Broadway production. It’s no wonder – comedians and stage actors make up a good portion of the cast, and Sweeney Lawless, a former comedian herself, writes assuredly to their abilities. Though it’ll certainly be easier for mainstream audiences to digest than some of the more gruesome fare at this year’s festival, its creepy setting and suggestive elements are more than enough to induce goosebumps.