Hindsight can be a blessing and a curse, you know? For example, you might think that blending the genres of comedy, horror, and heist sounds like a really fun idea, but after watching Polterheist, you might have a clearer idea of why so few directors in the history of cinema have ever attempted it.
Our story is simple: two small-time criminals, Boxy and Tariq, end up on the wrong side of their drug lord when one of their colleagues, Frank, has run off with a bunch of his money. They are given four days to find Frank and the money, otherwise, they’ll presumably be beaten to death with a cricket bat.
Problem #1: They’ve already found Frank and accidentally on purpose killed him.
Problem #2: They have no clue where he’s hidden the money, and now that he’s dead they have no way of figuring that out.
Until they discover the services of Alice, a psychic medium who claims to be able to communicate with the dead. It’ll be easy, right? They’ll talk to dead Frank, he’ll decide to be charitable and tell them where the money is even though they KILLED HIM and he wasn’t talking when it could have saved his life so why would he now? I can’t conceive of a possible way where this won’t work out.
Let’s start with the positives: Jo Mousley is incredible as Alice/Dead Frank. She puts in a solid performance as the soft-spoken medium, but really impresses once the spirit of Frank inhabits Alice’s body – it genuinely feels as though a middle-aged Yorkshire gangster is speaking through her. As Frank, she is responsible for bringing the lion’s share of the humor and emotional resonance to the film, and it cannot be overstated how large her impact is on Polterheist.
But despite her work, it’s immediately clear that Polterheist is trying to do too much and at the end of the day, it devotes the most attention to the least interesting plotline: the heist. Although it’s billed as a comedy/horror/heist film, it isn’t particularly funny and while there are supernatural elements in the film, it doesn’t spend a lot of time really exploring them.
I would have loved to see more of a buddy comedy aspect to the relationship between Boxy and Tariq, but as it stands, their dynamic suffers from the fact that Tariq is a humorless, poorly written character. The relationship between Boxy and Frank, even as expressed through Alice’s possessed body, is far more interesting and worthier of exploration.
We have the late Gemma Head to thank for that, who in addition to playing Tracey co-wrote the script and is largely credited for bringing deeper emotional content to the film. She wrote arguably the best scene in the film, where Frank is playing cards with Boxy and trying to give him one last lesson on how to project confidence and not be so down on himself all the time.
Polterheist also establishes a fascinating explanation of life after death, wherein the spirits of the dead are all around us all the time, but only mediums like Alice can communicate with them. This, in particular, feels like a missed opportunity, as it could have bolstered the horror element of the film with some additional spooky scenes with Alice and the ghosts. Instead, they’re limited to just one or two scenes during the initial séance, and never remarked upon again, except for Frank’s comments on how he can go anywhere and watch pretty much anyone having sex.
Overall, the film has a lot going on, and while its creative ambition is to be admired, it struggles in its execution. Polterheist does manage to be a comedy and a horror and a heist film, but only barely. It’s just a shame that the one genre that they spend the most time on is the one they seemed to have the least interest in.
Directed by: David Gilbank
Cast: Jo Mousley, Sid Akbar Ali, Jamie Cymbal