Scott Poiley, prolific producer and longtime Anthony DiBlasi collaborator (he worked on Last Shift and Missionary, among others), makes his directorial debut with Exhume, a movie that, judging by the trailer and marketing material, looks like just another standard paranormal multiplex-botherer. Thankfully, to Poiley’s credit and DiBlasi’s obvious influence, it’s anything but.
Based on true events (that old chestnut), the premise sees a husband and wife team tasked with exhuming a body from an unmarked grave on land previously occupied by some sort of juvenile detention center. It’s very strictly just the two of them (“NO TEAM!” thunders one higher-up) and their moody teenage daughter. But, naturally, they soon find they’re not alone.
Exhume is an odd little thing. Poiley has clearly learned much about atmosphere and tension from working with DiBlasi (who edited alongside him and also takes an executive producer credit here). He stacks the deck with suggestion before outright showing us anything and ensures we are fully invested in the family dynamics at the heart of the story.
Last Shift alum Sarah Sculco takes to a difficult role with aplomb as tortured teen Emma, who’s clearly battling some real-life demons even before any supernatural ones show up. She’s smart, too, filming herself using her iPhone once she begins sleepwalking in their spooky new environment (and to prove something to her disbelieving parents).
As is traditional with hauntings, Emma is the focus of the phantom’s ire, her pain and suffering its fuel. The family strains are keenly felt, and will be particularly recognisable to anyone who’s ever fought with their parents over a right to believe whatever they want to believe. Emma’s mother is hard on her, but she kind of has to be given what’s happened previously.
Unnecessary flashbacks flesh out the story but Exhume could easily survive on tension alone. Gore is sparingly used but effective, while the faceless apparitions that stalk the deserted hallways are well-designed. Adam Barber’s screechy, weird score complements the dread-laden atmosphere and elevates the material in its more cliched moments.
The idea that “to suffer is to cleanse” is well-established but not overdone or even overtly religious in its intention. And Poiley wisely keeps most of Exhume‘s secrets until its final moments, with a brave ending that suggests there’s more to this story, should one wish to go looking for it. It’s not rewriting the rule-book per se, but it’s a welcome riposte from similar fare.
This is a slight, but by no means unsuccessful debut feature that incorporates much of what makes DiBlasi such an accomplished, yet vastly underrated filmmaker while also establishing Poiley as one to watch in his own right. It’s also super creepy, particularly considering its real-life ties, and Sculco is like a mini Katherine Isabelle in training.
Definitely worth a look (just ignore all the samey marketing material).
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Scott Poiley
Writer(s): Scott Poiley
Stars: Alice Rietveld, William Haze, Sarah Sculco, Matthew Nardozzi
Studio/ Production Co: Skyra Entertainment
Length: 78 minutes