“The Blackwell Ghost” is a found footage film and mockumentary that was written, directed, and acted by an anonymous cast and crew. The film is presented as a documentary shot by an unnamed Hollywood filmmaker turned ghost hunter who investigates an allegedly haunted house.
Consequently, The Blackwell Ghost shares the same (unknown) lead actor as in The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (2016). For those found footage fans who believe that the The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (2016) is authentic found footage, we can say unequivocally that either both of these films are works of fiction, or the unnamed victim in The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (2016) escaped the clutches of his alien abductors, only to return to Earth a year later and become a paranormal investigator covering The Blackwell Ghost. Other similarities (e.g. same website hosting, and other factors) between the two films lend credence to our assertion that both films were made by the same filmmakers.
The 59-minute Blackwell Ghost finds its footing in (perceived) reality by relying on a plot that is based on an actual viral Youtube video about a haunted hotel. The viral video was presumably posted by the unnamed cast and crew responsible for making The Blackwell Ghost.
The Blackwell Ghost opens with a filmmaker talking about his career making zombie movies. Tired of the hackneyed genre, he expresses a desire to take on a different type of project. After coming across the haunted hotel video (described above) on Youtube, the filmmaker decides to create a documentary about the disturbing footage. His goal is to determine whether the video is authentic or an elaborate hoax. The investigation starts off promising but comes to an abrupt dead-end when John, the person who posted the haunted hotel video, stops returning the filmmaker’s messages. Without anything substantial to report on, the filmmaker abandons the project.
Two years later the filmmaker receives another haunting video and decides to rekindle his documentary. This second video is of a house owned by Greg, a resident of Pennsylvania. The filmmaker and his wife Terri head to Pennsylvania to investigate.
The filmmaker soon discovers that the house has a sinister history grounded in unimaginable horror. Will this investigation provide undeniable evidence that ghosts are real? The footage will reveal the truth.
Found Footage Cinematography
The Blackwell Ghost utilizes a variety of video cameras to capture the footage that makes up the feature film. Most of the footage is captured using two handheld video cameras held by the main protagonist (filmmaker) and his wife. Additional footage is captured via smartphone cameras, surveillance cameras with night vision, and a 16 mm film camera.
The majority of the footage embodies good cinematic technique and choreography, which is to be expected since the protagonist is a trained filmmaker. Even more notable is the editing. For many scenes, multiple POVs are established by interweaving the handheld video camera and fixed surveillance camera footage. This approach gives The Blackwell Ghost the feel of a traditional narrative shot film while still maintaining a strong found footage conceit.
The filming reasons used throughout The Blackwell Ghost are relatively strong. Since the film is structured as a documentary, the main protagonist rightfully films everything related to the subject matter he’s investigating. The preamble at the beginning of the film illustrates the genesis of the documentary—the impetus for why the protagonist decides to investigate the house in Pennsylvania.
The Blackwell Ghost also contains a healthy dose of establishing shots. The most notable of these scenes are filmed from video cameras mounted to the underside of the protagonist’s private airplane. As noted earlier in this review, the protagonist is a professional filmmaker, so adding these flourishes comes across as organic to the story.
A substantial amount of footage presented in The Blackwell Ghost is shot with fixed position surveillance cameras. Since these video cameras require no human intervention to record, footage can be captured during situations where the characters normally wouldn’t be holding a video camera. The surveillance cameras effectively fill what otherwise would be a void in the story.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity is a measure of how accurately a film is portrayed as actual found footage. This rating considers cinematography, filming reason, acting, audio, special effects, and many other variables. The Blackwell Ghost does a commendable job at maintaining the film’s adherence to found footage technique.
The Blackwell Ghost contains a healthy amount of background music, an audio element we often take exception to in the pages of Found Footage Critic. The one notable exception to this rule is faux documentaries, which are edited after the fact and intentionally include background music for dramatic effect. This is a technique used by actual documentaries that grace the History Channel and other like-minded networks. In the case of The Blackwell Ghost, the main protagonist states at the onset of the film that he is shooting a documentary, which invokes a pass for the background music.
The film also makes subtle use of visual effects, which are at a level similar to those often seen in ghost hunter reality TV shows. This subtlety goes a long way towards making The Blackwell Ghost seem that much more authentic. Quite often, found footage films present too much in the way of CGI, resulting in a more entertaining final product but at the expense of perceived authenticity.
Critiquing the acting in The Blackwell Ghost presents a challenge as none of the actors are credited in the film—the film itself doesn’t even contain a credit sequence. We present an almost identical assessment of the acting in our review of The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (2016). The lack of named actors in The Blackwell Ghost should come as no surprise as we assert both films were created by the same filmmakers.
The standout performance in the film comes from the (unnamed) actor playing Greg, the owner of the house in Pennsylvania that the main protagonist investigates. The acting of the ensemble cast is fairly realistic, although the dialog spoken by the main protagonist sometimes comes across as too scripted during several of the found footage sequences.
The Blackwell Ghost does a good job at setting up an intriguing plot. Without giving away any heavy spoilers, the crux of the film focuses on the investigation of an allegedly haunted house that was once owned by an evil woman with an ominous past. Another captivating element of The Blackwell Ghost is a unique prop located in the basement of the house, adding to the mystique of the film.
Juxtaposed on the main plot is the haunted hotel Youtube video (discussed earlier) on which the film is predicated. The Blackwell Ghost has many layers of externally referenced information and interesting fictitious snippets planted within the film itself to keep viewers engaged.
To the credit of the (still unnamed filmmakers), with a runtime of 59 minutes, The Blackwell Ghost does not overstay its welcome. Too many found footage directors are overly concerned with the length of their film, adding footage to increase the runtime at the expense of pacing and entertainment value. Clocking in at just under an hour, The Blackwell Ghost moves briskly but does not feel unnecessarily short. Similarly, The Phoenix Tapes ’97 (2016) has a slightly longer runtime of 67 minutes. A message to found footage directors: length doesn’t matter…focus on quality!
The Blackwell Ghost is a fun and entertainment ghost hunter film with an intriguing backstory to maintain interest and encourage Internet surfing to learn more about the infamous history of Ruth Blackwell and the haunted house in Pennsylvania.