The IMDB page for Paranormal Prison describes it thusly, “A paranormal investigation YouTube channel is getting ready to shut down if they don’t have a video that goes viral in time.” How many films have used that idea before? Films as diverse as Portal, Deadtectives and Anna 2 come to mind right away. Director Brian Jagger and co-writer Randall Reese figured we needed at least one more though. Were they right?
Before I get into the film itself, let me clear one point up. I’ve seen Paranormal Prison referred to more than once as a found footage film. At least one review criticized it for obvious editing, having background music, etc. But it isn’t found footage. Yes it involves a film crew and yes we do see their footage. But it’s never claimed that that’s all we’re seeing or even that it was found. Given the film’s ending that would be a pretty stupid claim to make.
Matthew (Todd Haberkorn, Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy) is director, star and skeptic of “The Skeptic and The Scientist” a YouTube show he’s financing with his trust fund. His co-host Sarah (Paris Warner, 626 Evolution, Mythica: The Godslayer), the scientist, has invented several pieces of ghost hunting equipment. they’ll be using. The only problem is, nobody is watching the show, probably because Matthew is an absolute asshole.
They score a break, they along with their sound person Ashley (Coryn Treadwell) and cameraman Jacob (Brian Telestai) will be the last team allowed into the most haunted prison in Idaho before it’s torn down. They’re given a tour led by an unnamed Park Ranger (Easton Lay, Project XIII) who tells them he wouldn’t want to be there after dark. And then it gets dark.
Paranormal Prison runs for seventy minutes, and we’re past the halfway mark before anything remotely spooky happens. The first half of the film is literally all talk, and not very interesting talk either. Sarah’s explanation of how her gear works is all technobabble. Ashley’s tearful explanation of why she got into ghost hunting is a cliché, as is Sarah’s. And the tale of female serial killer Mary Beth Flake (Amanda Fitch) is, at best, far-fetched. And that’s before you add in her connection to the rose plant in the prison yard.
However, once the shadowy figure shows up on the video monitor and Sarah’s equipment indicates a ghostly presence things do start picking up a bit. It’s nothing we haven’t seen, or heard before but it is done with a bit of enthusiasm. There is one incident that looked like it might go somewhere interesting, but it turns out to be Matthew’s idea of a joke.
The last fifteen minutes do manage a few effective scenes as the spirits finally make themselves known. And the film certainly didn’t end the way I expected and there’s a funny mid credit scene as well. But most viewers probably won’t consider that worth sitting through the first fifty five minutes for. That still puts it ahead of Investigation 13 or Episode 50 but that’s also not saying a lot.
It’s too bad the script is so bland because Paranormal Prison was shot in an actual prison, The Old Idaho Penitentiary, and it makes for a great location. With so much potential it’s criminal that most of the film is either the crew sitting at their command center or walking around talking. The film is watchable if you’re in an undemanding mood, but it could have been much better.