(2021) Horror Documentary (Gravitas) Kendell Whelpton, Cory Heinzen, Richel Stratton, Brian Murray, Vera Whelpton, Jennifer Heinzen, John Huntington, Anthony Cross, John Sparks. Directed by Kendell and Vera Whelpton
In recent years, television programs about amateur paranormal investigators have proliferated, with the 800-lb gorilla of the genre being Ghost Hunters. One of the places that TAPS never visited was the farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island where once lived the Perron family. Their experiences were later turned into the massive hit movie The Conjuring which in turn spawned a franchise. It seems kind of odd that TAPS which was based in Rhode Island never bothered to investigate a place supposedly as haunted as this – although it should be said that the owners at the time claimed that there was nothing particularly frightening going on in the home. In face, Norma Sutcliffe, ran a daycare center in the house for 20 years without incident.
The new owners, Cory and Jennifer Heinzen, were fans of the movie and when the house went on the market were eager to buy it. They currently operate the home as a kind of haunted Air BnB, inviting amateur investigators to spend the night.
Kendall and Vera Whelpton took them up on it and in fact spent two weeks there. Along with their friends and fellow amateur investigators Brian Murray and Richel Stratton, they set up dozens of cameras in the nearly 300-year-old house as well as motion detectors and other equipment, most of it homemade or repurposed. This documentary records their experiences.
Be advised first off – there is nothing here that is particularly spectacular, or definitive proof of spooks, spirits, or ghosts, malevolent or otherwise. Like most paranormal investigative programs, we get footage of doors swinging open by themselves, objects falling off of shelves, strange orbs flying across the screen (well, one only in this case) and plenty of bumps and knocks. Of course, anyone who has ever lived in a house that is more than a century old can tell you that these things aren’t unusual – old homes can be affected by changes in air pressure, and are often full of creaks and moans that have everything to do with the house settling into its foundation and less to do with the paranormal.
If I sound like a skeptic here, I’m really not – I like to think that I’m open-minded about the possibilities of the otherworldly. However, the Whelptons, The Heinzens, Murray and Stratton don’t even attempt to attribute their footage to anything other than the supernatural. One of the things that attracted me to the original Ghost Hunters was that their first priority was to actually investigate – they looked for rational, scientific explanations first and when those were all exhausted, then they might admit that there was a possibility of a haunting. There’s no evidence that they even considered anything like that.
What you get here are a group of people who believe what they want to believe and try to make their footage conform to that belief. I don’t doubt for a minute that they believe the house is haunted, or that the paranormal exists but they don’t even research the history of the home they’re investigating, or even mention what the Warrens (the real-life investigators who worked with the Perron family back in the 1970s) attributed the haunting to. That may be because much of the folklore surrounding the house has since been debunked; the Warrens cited Bathsheba Sherman, who lived on a neighboring farm, as a witch who was the source of the haunting (the film expanded greatly on the theory). In reality, there’s no evidence that Mrs. Sherman practiced witchcraft and most of the tales of her being a witch seem to be contemporary in origin. The murder that was attributed to have taken place on the property actually took place in Massachusetts. Town records also don’t verify the suicides that took place on the property which were alluded to in a book by Andrea Perron, one of the five daughters who lived on the property in the 1970s and who continues to assert that the property is haunted.
I certainly won’t contradict either Ms. Perron or Ms. Sutcliffe. Both women lived on the property after all and clearly love the house and the land it sits on, and who am I, a mere film critic, to doubt any of their experiences? If you want to see for yourself, the farmhouse is available for day tours, although stays in the farm are booked through the end of 2022. You can look into the farmhouse further at this site and if you’re interested in finding out more, the Heinzens would be happy to answer your questions. However, this documentary that was filmed entirely on their property is not mentioned anywhere on the website, although other programs, podcasts and blogs that did, are. It is conspicuous by its absence. Finding out the truth about the Conjuring Farmhouse is something you are unlikely to learn by watching this movie, though.
REASONS TO SEE: The researchers and the Heinzens are outgoing and genuinely believe in what they’re doing.
REASONS TO AVOID: Never delves into the history of the house – why is it haunted? – nor do they seem to attempt to find any non-supernatural explanations for any of the phenomenon witnessed.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some spooky sequences and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Heinzens have two children who do not appear in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS:As of 9/6/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Mothman Legacy
FINAL RATING: 5/10