Opening text explains how a young man was beaten to death on April 12th, 1950, in a California boy's prison. The body was dumped in the jail's cemetery and the crime was never investigated, let alone solved.

"... sometimes he comes back, for revenge" the passage ends.

This brings up to date, in April of course, where we meet Liz (MacKenzie Firgens). She's a forlorn teenager, home from college for the summer. She's spent the best part of her summer break in her bedroom, on account of a recent break-up which has hit her hard. Much to her mother's relief, she's finally coaxed out of her bedroom by best pal Ashley (Heather Tocquiny).

After driving Liz out to nearby woods and sharing a couple of beers with her, Ashley reveals that she's invited Liz's old flame Danny (Jake White) along for the day. Ashley, it would appear, has a spot of match-making in mind.

Danny and Liz hit it off immediately, and he soon suggests that the three of them venture out to Preston Castle: an imposing local legend situated on a hill. In actual fact it's an abandoned correctional facility for young boys, which carries with it a legacy of mysterious disappearances and unexplained violent deaths.

Naturally, Danny proposes that the three of them break into the place and spend the evening there. Even more unsurprisingly - this being the 21st Century and all - Liz insists on bringing along her camcorder and filming large chunks of the experience.

Following a scout of the derelict building, Danny regales the girls with spooky stories about the people who have previously met hideous fates at Preston Castle. He really knows how to charm his way into a filly's knickers, don't you think? Alas, the most this leads to for the longest time is the odd jump-scare prank and more bottles of beer being imbibed.

Eventually Liz and Danny start getting fresh, which is Ashley's cue to go exploring upstairs in the building alone. It's here that she starts hearing strange noises and gets seriously freaked out. Meanwhile, Danny's scary yarns continue as Liz takes an age to realise the danger her friend is in upstairs...

From this point on, the girls correspond through Facetime on their mobile phones while they weep and try to reach other in the dark. As for Danny? He proves to be as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

A HAUNTING AT PRESTON CASTLE purports to be based on true incidents. In actuality, the fact is Preston Castle does exist and is rumoured to be haunted by the victim of a past tragedy. To this end, I believe it's even featured on TV's "Most Haunted". That's as factual as things get.

Co-written by Peter Bailey and director Martin Rosenberg, this low-budget film looks nice and makes good use of its atmospheric location. The dialogue is decent, performances are generally very good. I actually found the three leads quite likeable, especially Firgens (not often the case in modern US horror films). If there is any tension elicited at all in this film - and there is - then it's attributable to the efforts of these three.

But ... but ... this is horribly contrived, predictable fare. From the faux scares earlier into proceedings, to the long drawn-out searches of darkened corridors by torchlight: we've seen it all a thousand times before. The panicked juddering of the handheld camera? Yes, that's here too - though, thankfully, the POV footage is limited: this ISN'T a 'found footage' flick. Quick-edit flashes of ghostly images? We've got them also! Night-cam footage a la [REC]? Of course!

The score is as you'd expect it to be: a mix of someone holding their finger down on a single synth key, and mournful vibes akin to that noise made when people run their fingers round the rims of various glasses.

Consequently, A HAUNTING AT PRESTON CASTLE becomes rather boring and forgettable even as you're watching it. And that's a shame because the cast deserve better. However, aside from a couple of creepy moments and some sparky dialogue shared between Liz and Danny when things start getting tense - the fraught situation affording them the opportunity to open up about past feelings - they're really let down by a lack of imagination on Rosenberg's part.

And when one character proves to be so stubborn that they're still shouting "No such thing as ghosts! I don't believe in them! Fuck you!" in the final minutes of the film, it does all start to get a little silly too.

The disc that we were sent for review purposes appeared to be an early test screener. It opened to a static main menu page, offering only the option of playing the film or its trailer. No scene selection or anything else - not even the option of selecting your preferred audio mix.

The trailer, for what it's worth, was a colourful 105-second affair which doesn't really represent the film too well.

As for the film itself, it looked very good in anamorphic widescreen. Strong blacks (the final 50 minutes of this 79-minute film are pretty much steeped in darkness), healthy detail and true colours make for a strong transfer.

English audio came with provisions of 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both proffered solid, evenly balanced playbacks.

A HAUNTING AT PRESTON CASTLE has its moments and is perhaps notable for trying to spook its viewer instead of grossing them out. It's a little like a glossier, more sanitised and teen-friendly THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. But it loses points severely when it comes to originality and holding the viewer's attention.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Tricoast
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
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