There are so many tropes in the too-often formulaic horror genre that it’s impossible for these films not to veer into the cinematic cliché now and again. Urban legends? Paranormal investigators finding that yes, there really are supernatural entities? Abandoned and haunted insane asylums? Secondary characters with secrets to hide? It’s enough to get Scooby and the gang on the job!
Fortunately, the indie horror film Investigation 13 doesn’t take itself too seriously as it weaves back and forth through so many of these horror tropes, offering up a group of college students who are investigating the abandoned Black Grove Psychiatric Asylum that is reputed to be haunted. Their goal is to prove the existence of the paranormal so they can force their college to offer classes on the subject. Their previous investigations have seemingly been failures, but this one, #13, is going to get them the data they need. If they survive the experience.
Leader of the student investigators is Melanie (Stephanie Hernandez), along with Jerod (Patrick Flanagan), Nate (Giordan Diaz), Ernie (Jesse Ramos) and Terry (William Alexander). They’re right out of central casting “gender and racial mix of attractive college students” and their performances are acceptable until creepy old caretaker Layla (Meg Foster) shows up on screen. Foster is a very accomplished horror and genre actor and her performance so eclipses the rest of the cast that it’s a study in contrasts suitable for any acting school.
Mel is a Latina spitfire, the heart of the group and the driving force behind the investigation. Jerod is the lazy frat boy, Nate is the anxious guy, Ernie is the techie nerd and Terry? Well, let’s just say he’s busy playing video games when he should be watching all the closed circuit monitors. All of them are self-aware archetypes of the genre.
Their investigation revolves around the urban legend of the “mole man”, a crazy serial killer who apparently likes to stay in dark, closed places. Actually, there’s never really an explanation of how the “mole” man got that moniker. Probably doesn’t matter, though, because their investigations – surprise! – proves that he’s real! He’s still haunting the Black Grove Asylum and he’s dangerous as heck.
The storyline is entirely predictable but there’s a certain charm and energy to this combination of found footage, high tech, animation and live action that I found charming nonetheless. Well, with the possible exception of the overly long and amateurish animation sequences, that is. Though it features a lively narration, to call it animation is probably a misnomer. It’s more like a narrated storyboard and while 10-30 seconds might be fine for backstory (given an indie budget) the extensive use of these animations was problematic for the film.
Still, there’s something about Investigation 13 that I enjoyed, and every time Foster was on screen was a delight; she is a terrific actor and her creepy, ominous vibes oozed out of the screen during the movie. If you only like big, fancy productions, this might not be the horror film for you, but if you can enjoy an indie that explores the genre, Investigation 13 might be one to add to your list!
Dad Note: It’s a horror film. With gore, lots of crude language (definitely earns its R rating just with the non-stop storm of f-bombs) and all that makes the horror genre a poor option for little ones. This could be a good teen movie night entry, however, bound to elicit lots of yelling at the characters on screen. I suggest you watch it first to assess if it’s good for your older children, however.