Directed by: #VigneshKumar
A generic concept doesn’t have to equate to a dull film. With the right direction, even the simplest idea can surprise, delight, and fright, as should be the case for a ghostly parable like Death News. Regrettably, despite the odd moment of synergistic camera work and lighting, the picture produces all the horrors of a budget-lite episode of Goosebumps, and is a slog to sit through.
We’ve all seen this plot before; a successful person accidentally kills an innocent, doesn’t own up to the crime, and is promptly haunted to death. While the script admittedly concludes with an enjoyable Twilight Zone style twist, the dialogue is far from the quality of Rod Serling’s work as the story moves with a pace ranging from absurdly fast to mind numbingly plodding. The little dialogue used is fine, but only fine. A ghostly summary via a typing poltergeist is poorly written, clumsily expositing plot beats that feel as inorganic as the forced scares themselves.
Lead player Lea Des Garets gives a mixed performance. Bearing the emotional weight of the narrative on her shoulders, she’s required to be likeable enough to align the audience to her plight, but also deplorable enough for us to want to see some spooky justice. Perhaps in part due to the basic script, her acting comes off as more Scooby-Doo than Woman in Black. Over the top expressions that scream ‘zoinks’ lead to a campy performance consistent with the silly aesthetics, in particular, the look of the ghostly victim. The eponymous ‘Beth’ spends the majority of the film with her head slouched towards the floor, popping the best scary eyes that she can muster, and looking more hungover teenager than vengeful spirit.
The campy performances are compounded by a poor attention to detail in the make-up, lighting, and camera departments. The former is as rudimentary as monsters come, with black panda eyeliner substituting the usual horrific injuries, pale eyes, sharp teeth, or gaunt face that tend to characterise most filmic spectres. A simple approach often works wonders, but shooting the ghost in centre frame, in broad daylight, only highlights the sloppy make up and does nothing to inspire goosepimples. Had the ghost been obscured by chiaroscuro lighting, or better yet, hidden entirely, our psyche could’ve filled in the blanks; an approach that is often more effective. It’s absolutely more frightening than a hungover woman with panda eyes carrying a stuffed doll around in broad daylight.
To give credit where due, there are moments where the camera brings the film to life. The money shot comes at the mid-point as Stefanie stares through a multi panelled window with red and blue lights reflecting onto her face, laying her guilt on heavily without the need for words. It’s a well shot sequence that implies endless subtext without saying a thing. It’s thus a shame that the entire picture wasn’t written or shot with the same level of subtlety. Only a few minutes later, as the spectral exposition dump via Microsoft Word is delivered, the cinematography moves from Hitchcockian tension building to shaking more than Outkast with a polaroid picture. It’s unclear whether this was an attempt at a found footage style of recording, putting us in the mind of Stefanie, or whether it was just sloppy work.
The only inspiration for racing hearts or clenching teeth comes from the chilling soundtrack, which isn’t half bad. Though some tracks sound bizarrely ripped from a children’s mystery show, the loud bangs and booms do provide a sense of impending dread, even if the other elements don’t support it. One facet that is genuinely fantastic however, are the opening titles. Archaic, subtle, and eerily lacking in music, they powerfully forebode a coming terror and craft an organic feeling of fear. It’s just a shame that they don’t foreshadow a compelling film that’s consistent with their level of quality.
Overall, Death News is a bland, uninspired ghost story that fails to tread new ground while simultaneously lacking effort in the most critical areas of compelling horror. While classics like Halloween tell a genuinely frightening story on a small budget by employing smart techniques like a POV camera, a slow tension build, and a basic, but effective costume, Death News commits the greatest sin a supernatural thriller can; it’s just not scary. While not completely devoid of merit, it’s instantly forgettable due to a weak script, a mundane tone, and campy acting. Death News is regrettably, bad news.