MIFF Review – Spookers

Sometimes, finding your place in the world involves dressing up in a terrifying costume and scaring people. That’s the basic premise behind Spookers, a fantastically entertaining documentary from New Zealand by director Florian Habicht.

Taking the audience behind the scenes at a popular horror attraction south of Auckland, Spookers delves into the lives of those who work there, from the owners to the costumed actors who take part in the theatrics night after night. The film touches on many themes throughout it’s fairly short running time: family, mental health, finding a sense of belonging and the nature of being scared for fun.

It’s a gently humorous film and one that manages to be full of heart even as it shows off some of the exceptionally creepy makeup and set design that adorns the park. The actors tell their often heart-wrenching stories whilst in full costume complete with gaping wounds and prosthetic teeth, occasionally being captured without makeup as the film progresses and their words reveal the people underneath the costumes.

The film is stylishly shot using a lot of horror movie camera angles and lighting to the point where watching it without sound would make it look like a particularly gory horror movie rather than the light hearted doco it actually is. It’s an interesting effect and it works well, as do the re-enactments of the cast’s dreams and nightmares that are placed throughout the film.

Given that the Spookers attraction is built in an old psychiatric hospital, there’s an interesting contrast as the documentary cuts between the individual stories of the people who work there and a former patient of the hospital. The patient details her own struggles and discomfort with the park, possibly further adding to the stigma of mental illness. The cast themselves relate their own stories honestly, detailing how the job has helped them to overcome their own fears, illnesses and mental health issues.

Spookers never really dives deeply into its themes given its brevity, but it handles them all with a surprising maturity and even-handedness. Its cast is endearing and their stories are well told and ultimately life-affirming. For a film soaked in fake blood, guts and monsters, Spookers is genuinely sweet and heart-warming.

Review by Matt Russell

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