By Robert Gould – July 23, 2013
“They don’t have to be good…” paranormal investigator Maria reassures partner-in-crime Brian Higgins “Just spooky”.
She’s referring to the ‘data’ the two must acquire while investigating an alleged scene of supernatural activity, but she could just as easily be laying down the gauntlet for director Sean Meehan. With less than eight minutes to impress, can Mallas, MA hope to succeed on both counts? Well, when dealing with the type of light, family-friendly horror that Meehan has strived for with this winsome effort, the two traits are rarely mutually exclusive. Meehan’s flair for crafting subtly tense sequences pays homage to his chosen genre, while solid performances and a well-intentioned script add a credible slant.
A sweeping aerial shot of suburbia signals the director’s Poltergeist-aping aesthetic. Maria and Brian are revealed to be cynical con-artists from almost the very beginning, but Meehan doesn’t judge, instead allowing his characters to breathe and soak up the gently unnerving atmosphere of their customer’s supposedly haunted basement. There they bicker, gather whatever objects they believe can be palmed off as definitive proof of the afterlife, and encounter Sydney, a mute but playful young girl. As she takes part in the duo’s carefully staged photos, Sydney exhibits a striking talent, drawing an unexpected crisis of faith from one of her observers.
The score alternates between wary and fantastical, but rarely imposes, supporting the film’s airy tone. DoP Rick Macomber isn’t adverse to bright, primary colours, with even the dingy, basement-set scenes imbued with a refreshing, cerulean hue. Meehan also scores points for setting much of the action in broad daylight, all while maintaining the film’s mysterious allure. Amusing minor players, including a sidelined myth-debunker sporting a bejeweled beehive, add further dimensions to this colourful world.
The fact that Mallas, MA was put together in only forty-eight hours (as part of the Boston 48 Hour Film Project) is echoed by Maria and Brian’s own deadline: an evening talk show appearance where their discoveries must be shared. It’s a neat example of being self-referential without being self-indulgent, as a genuinely surprising outcome sees Meehan begin to forge his own path as a director, not just merely honouring those who went before.