Spirit (2001)


They Were Making TV Movies in 2001?

Main Cast: Elizabeth Moss, Greg Evigan

Director: Michael Slovis

So I’m scrolling through the horror movies on Roku, looking for something, anything to watch, and among the sea of anonymous, never-heard-of-it titles, I see a thumbnail that looks familiar.  Never heard of the movie, 2001’s SPIRIT, but I’m pretty sure that’s Elizabeth Moss in the image.  I like Moss, she did great in the one season of The Handmaid’s Tale I saw, and she killed it in THE INVISIBLE MAN.  And the description says this is a ghost story.  Okay, we have a winner.

It was about ten minutes in that I realized, no, we have a stinker!

And only another couple of minutes of searching online to find out SPIRIT was a TV movie.  Okay, then, that says to me don’t expect any serious scares.  And that sucks, because what good is a ghost story if it’s not going to be scary?

But by then I was already committed.

The story is typical TV movie crap.  Teenager Kelly O’Conner (Moss) has recently lost her mother in a car accident, so her dad, Jesse (Greg Evigan, My Two Dads), decides the best thing for everyone is to move from their home in California, to New Orleans.  If there was a reason given, I spaced it out.

Suffice to say once they get to their new home, it doesn’t take long for Kelly to realize the place is haunted, a fact confirmed by next door neighbor and teenage love interest Cole (Austin O’Brien, MY GIRL 2).  Kelly isn’t afraid, though; she’s convinced the ghost is her mother, which brings her some comfort in these trying times of being a moody teenager in 2001.

However, Cole tells her he’s seen over ten families go in and out of that house over the years.  Kelly’s mother’s only been dead a year; whatever’s in the house isn’t her.

Jesse, however, doesn’t believe in hocus pocus nonsense and doesn’t know what to do with his unruly daughter.  But before he can ship her off to a school in Colorado that he says “specializes in kids who’ve lost someone”, everything comes to a head and Kelly discovers the ghost’s identity and what it wants.

God save us from made-for-TV horror movies!

In retrospect, it seems my first impression of SPIRIT was spot on.  Oh crap, this is gonna be a real treat, is what I thought.  And it was.  And I was being sarcastic when I thought it, so the fact it totally sucked huge was right on point with my expectations.

It wasn’t bad enough the acting was terrible, but I could never decide if it was because the script was atrocious, or if they were really just that bad.  I’m leaning more toward the latter, because Evigan and O’Brien weren’t always terrible.  Moss, however … wow.  I mean, she’s the best thing in THE INVISIBLE MAN, and that was a damn good movie all around.  But you put then-19-year-old Moss in a TV horror movie with an already spotty script, and you’re just asking for trouble.

Thank God she was playing a moody teen who refuses to ever have a good time or see the bright side of any situation, because I just don’t think Moss could have emoted well enough to convey anything other than … well, anything at all.  Who gave this girl a big dose of Ny-Quill before every shoot?

In one scene, Jesse is telling Kelly about the school in Colorado after spotting Kelly and Cole out on the streets of New Orleans late at night.  He tells her she’s not to see Cole, he don’t believe in ghosts, her mother isn’t here, he’s possibly shipping her off to Colorado, and they’ll talk about it tomorrow.  Kelly should be furious.  Her words indicate she is.  Her face and eyes, however, say, “Cats are fluffy.”

There were three credited writers on this one, Garry Williams, Shawn Nelson, and V.R. McDade, but they’ve never done much besides this, and if this was a group effort, I’m not surprised.  The director, Michael Slovis, however, has a ton of credits, including Ed, CSI, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead, and Preacher, so he obviously got better over time.  This was a ROUGH start, though, and hopefully he was just hampered by a really bad script and an inexperienced main star (Moss already had 28 credits before this, including a great performance in GIRL, INTERRUPTED two years earlier).

On the bright side, if you don’t want to spend the whole movie cringing over the script or the acting, you’ve also got the score and the special effects to contend with.

Richard Bellis was the composer and he’s an old hat at scoring TV movies, including the 1990 IT mini-series, and a SLEW of Olsen Twins films.  There were times during SPIRIT that I couldn’t even focus on what was happening on screen, all I could think about was the sappy and intrusive score and wondering what the hell made anything think THIS moment deserved THAT music.

And then there were the effects.  Yes, SPIRIT is a TV movie, but it’s also a ghost story, can we please get SOME ghost effects?

Sure, if by “ghost effects” you mean that, whenever the ghost is active, we see the house from outside, and through the window of whatever room the ghost is tearing things up, it’s someone inside waving a blue and purple light around behind the blinds.  If that’s what you mean then, yes, we get plenty of ghost effects.

Set design.  Well, the house was beautiful, and I’d take it in a heartbeat, so I guess that’s one for the plus column.

I really wish I’d known before I hit play that SPIRIT was a TV movie; I would have picked something else from the start.  But by the time I realized it, I was already far enough in that it didn’t make sense to start something else from the beginning when I could just wade through this mess and, hopefully, find something worth mentioning in a review.  There was one scene toward the end involving the ghost and the husband she left behind that was pretty touching, but it wasn’t enough to save the movie.  And anyway, I’m watching a haunted house movie, I don’t want touching, I want something that makes me stay on the couch, afraid to venture further into the house until my wife gets home and saves me from the monsters.  SPIRIT was NOT the movie to do that.

Do I recommend SPIRIT?  If you’re on a quest to see EVERY Greg Evigan movie, then you kinda have to because he was definitely in this one.  Same with Moss; if you want to see it all, this is included in that list.  However, if you want to watch a free-to-stream horror movie that has ghosts and a compelling story and interesting characters with engaging plot twists and some top-level acting, then no.  Absolutely do not watch this movie if you’re looking for ANY of those things.

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