Liz and Ashley are two “teenagers” on summer break in a small town in Northern California. Liz begins the film by lamenting to her video diary, taken on a camcorder, that she is depressed from breaking up with her college boyfriend. So, she and Ashley meet up with the only other actor in this film, and he takes them on a picnic to Preston castle, an abandoned facility that once served as a juvenile hall.
This film is misguided on a number of levels. First, the actresses playing Liz and Ashley look uncomfortably old for being teenagers. So, I checked imdb, and sure enough, at the time of filming, the actresses were 37 and 27. This is especially incongruous since the teenage boy really was 19. Second, the camcorder- what teen in 2015 is using a camcorder, especially since she regularly pulls out her iphone for calling and the use of the flashlight.
The plot is absurdly simple. Picnic in haunted place. Stuff happens. But, with only three actors, that stuff takes forever. Ashley goes off alone of course to be the first victim, and the sequence lasts for 16 minutes. The whole film is only 81 minutes, of which 16 are spent with Ashley running through the “alone in a haunted place” tropes. Seriously, her flashlight mysteriously turned on, then off again four different times. She resorts to her iphone, which mysteriously turns to static and back again three different times. When she finally dies, it doesn’t even take place on screen, as that would’ve cost more money.
This film is about 75% film, and 25% “found footage” by using Liz’s video diary and Ashley’s cell phone videos. The director rips off Blair Witch and Quarantine, as some of the iconic shots from that movie are recreated here.
The movie is dull and re-hashed, but it still gets three stars for Preston Castle itself. Preston Castle was a “school of industry”, built in the early 1900s to rehabilitate boys by teaching them a trade, rather than incarcerating them. Now, the facility was a failure as abuse was rampant, and most boys ended up in Folsom or San Quentin later. There were dozens of escapes over the facility’s 60-year life span, and yes, mysterious cases of inmates being murdered. The film was built on location in the facility which is now open to tours and rentals for photo/movie shoots. It’s an awesome location, and after seeing the movie, I immediately wanted to go visit. Next time I visit my wife’s family, I’m gonna try to make a side trip to check it out. If only this had been a documentary of Preston Castle, it probably would’ve earned 4.5 stars.
Interesting side note – this film was released in 2012 with the title, “At Preston Castle”, in 2014 as “A Haunting at Preston Castle”, and in 2015 as “Horror at Preston Castle”. The film itself has become a typical horror movie villain – unable to die. Or another way to look at it, in the tradition of bad horror movie sequels, this movie has become its own sequel twice. A kind of sequel incest if you will.