Some people can watch a magician’s act content to sit back and marvel, but if you’re like me, you can’t enjoy the show until you figure out how that dove flew out of the magician’s sleeve. Director Florian Habicht’s latest documentary, Spookers, takes us behind the scenes of New Zealand’s most successful scare park. Anyone who enjoys experiencing a scare park’s visceral chills should consider skipping Spookers; the film kills the magic. If you prefer to know how scare parks operate, however, Spookers pulls back the curtain and transforms the macabre into the mundane.
In 2005, Beth and Andy Watson opened a haunted amusement park at the former Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital, just 45 km north of Auckland. Since then, the aptly-named Spookers has become New Zealand’s most successful scare park. Habicht goes behind Spooker’s creepy façade and investigates what makes the attraction tick. The film spends its brief 82-minutes following the Watsons, their eclectic staff, and the paying customers.
The best part of the film is watching the Spookers employees shuffle about the frame when they’re not on duty. The hilarious sight of monsters and killers standing around smoking cigarettes and talking on iPhones never gets old. Unfortunately, constant visual interludes where the ghoulish-looking staff mug for the camera is irritating to the point of distraction.
Once you get past all the killer clown makeup, corn mazes, and fake blood splatters, Spookers raises a fascinating point: are we blissfully inattentive to offensive mental health characterizations? Are schizophrenic and psychopathic villains doing the mentally ill a disservice? Is Michael Myers the cinematic equivalent of the Washington Redskins? Considering how much suffering took place on the Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital grounds, should people use the location as a playground for their horror fetishes? The film doesn’t provide definitive answers, but at least Spookers drives the conversation forward.
Hot Docs 2017 runs April 27 – May 7. For movies, showtimes, and ticket purchases go to www.hotdocs.ca