Warning: there are one or two rather mild spoilers ahead
Eddie Brewer (Ian Brooker, an actor whose screen credits only seem to consist of a few bit parts, which looks preposterously unfair in context of his performance here) is a rather old-fashioned kind of paranormal investigator. He works alone, mistrusts the whole EXTREME Ghost Hunters approach as much as the professional sceptics, and clearly abhors mediums; in fact, even though he has encountered strange phenomena quite often, he doesn’t necessarily even believe in spirits as such.
Despite his friendly curmudgeonly nature (with an edge of sadness connected to the burning death of his wife decades ago), Eddie has agreed to be accompanied by the documentary crew of a culture TV channel for a bit. The investigator clearly thinks they are doing some friendly puff piece, so it comes as a bit of surprise to him when he learns that their plans also involve a group of modern style ghost hunters and capital-S sceptic Susan Kovac (Louise Paris) with whom he has clashed before.
Mainly, Eddie is concerned with two cases right now. One involves some poltergeist type occurrences surrounding a young girl named Lucy Blakewell (Erin Connolly), phenomena which started out harmlessly enough but that by the time Eddie appears at the scene have become quite disturbing to Lucy’s mother (Bella Hamblin). And after all, how unthreatening can a phenomenon be that is connected to Lucy’s imaginary friend, when said friend calls itself after the clown Grimaldi?
Eddie’s second case concerns some odd happenings in Rookery House, a historical yet run-down building owned by the local council that’s being – rather haphazardly it seems – renovated. Particularly the building’s cellar appears to be a veritable hotbed of weird occurrences. In fact, Eddie will have encounters there that will be closer than any he’d ever expected.
During the course of the cases, Eddie will also learn that there just might be connection between them, that if you look into an abyss, the abyss just might look back at you, and that you really don’t want to waltz into certain cellars with a horde of people in tow.
Expectations are a wonderful thing, particularly if you go into a film like Andrew Spencer’s The Casebook of Eddie Brewer expecting another paranormal investigation POV horror film (I still can’t believe this is now an actual horror sub-sub-genre with more films in it than the Nazi zombie film) as I did, only to be delighted by what the film then turns out to be.
Formally, The Casebook isn’t a pure POV/found footage film at all. Most of the film does consist of the material the fictional TV crew is shooting but whenever things happen when and where having a camera around would be improbable, or when the paranormal activity is playing around with the camera while Eddie experiences something horrifying – which just happen to be scenes much more effectively staged without the POV camera style – it changes to a more traditional filmmaking language, with many a well-composed (and moodily-lit) shot. Trained against the improbabilities of the POV conceit as I – and probably other viewers of the type who haven’t grown to loathe it – now am, I would have expected to find this changing approach jarring, but Spencer uses it so effectively, naturally, and logically, the shifts in viewpoint seem to be organic parts of the film that wouldn’t make any sense if done differently.
That’s not the only highly impressive aspect of a film clearly made on the tightest of budgets, the kind of production where half of the people involved take on three or four roles behind the camera. The sound design is particularly worth mentioning, with various creepy noises taking the place of visible special effects, though the latter do come into play when appropriate, generally to good effect, unless you just need to see something explode, or want very explicit gore. In that case, however, this won’t be a film to make you happy anyway.
It’s not as if The Casebook were coy about the supernatural, though. There’s no dragging of feet in the script, and an absolute willingness to show the audience creepy and disturbing things, unless – and I love it when a film has the brains to know the difference – it is more creepy not to show something, and instead to suggest it. The film also does right by some other pretty difficult elements of horror, namely the so often tedious and annoying battle between believers and sceptics. The film is always clear that its sympathies (at least in the context of the plot) lie with Eddie’s approach to the supernatural, but it anchors these sympathies in Eddie’s characterisation instead of trying to convert the audience or preach at it, or even worse annoying with the bizarre holier than thou attitude of something like The Conjuring (a film as inferior to this one, by the way, as its budget is higher). In fact, professional sceptic Kovac doesn’t seem to be looked down upon because she doesn’t believe but because she’s an asshole about it, which goes for the Ghost Hunters! from the other side as well.
What impresses me most about Spencer’s film aren’t any of these fine and impressive elements, though, but rather how well it builds up a feeling of dread, beginning in a wry, friendly and even comedic tone that slowly shifts as the more disturbing parts of the plot unfold. At first, the hints of things to come only break the film’s seemingly laid back flow a little, but like Eddie’s nerves, the tone becomes increasingly brittle until even what starts out as a scene making fun of a broadly acted medium can turn frightening at a moment’s notice. Brooker, as the actor who is in most of the film’s scenes, sells this change of mood and his character very well. In his performance, there’s a certain edge to Eddie’s character from the beginning, yet the edge is counteracted by a feeling of basic, no-nonsense (in the polite British way, not the American one) decency. Until, that is, one of the film’s central horrors occurs, and the wonder and calm that are part of Eddie’s character shift into fear and utter horror. It’s quite the thing to watch.
Not coincidentally, as the whole of The Casebook of Eddie Brewer is.
Denis Klotz contributes a regular bi-weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?