Heilstätten Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
A German paranormal horror feature a-la Blair Witch Project, with an unforeseen twist at the end. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Director: Michael David Pate
Cast: Sonja Gerhardt, Emilio Sakraya, Timmi Trinks, Nilam Farooq, Tim Oliver Schultz, Lisa-Marie Koroll, Davis Schulz & Farina Flebbe.
Run Time: 89 min.
US Release: N/A
UK Release: N/A
German Release: 22 February 2018
Heilstätten is directed by German regisseur Michael David Pate, infamous for his previous social-media themed picture Kartoffelsalat. After watching the trailers I wasn’t really expecting much but was nevertheless excited to see a German horror movie, since they don’t make many productions of that genre. Leaving the theatre, though, I could not have been more upset, even with my low-predictions. This is a cheaply produced shocker, failing to entertain at any level!
Four young YouTube vloggers and their friends challenge each other to stay at the notorious Heilstätten of Beelitz, for 24 hours. Theo (Schultz), a tour guide for the abandoned sanatorium, gets them into the facility but as dusk falls, the silent and decaying rooms turn into something sinister and dangerous, as the Heilstätten seem to be possessed by ghosts.
The story includes a lot of haunted house and found footage cliéches but also gives it a fresh coat of paint, by adding YouTube artists as the main characters. This gives the plot a plausible reason for all the cameras that are placed around the abandoned hospital. It also contains a message that dominates the first act of the film, criticising the “ignorant” content of some of the larger channels on the social-media platforms, as well as condemning the follower craze. This message, though, gets a little bit muffled by the poor delivery and week dialogues, which are at times way over-the-top.
Most annoying is the fact that this horror flick makes constant use of cheap jump scares throughout its runtime until the real threat appears on screen. The last act incorporates a turn of events, supposed to pull the rug from underneath the viewer’s feet, but it is handled so incredibly cheesy that it made me chuckle. The last five minutes of the movie are no better, trying to add a second twist in the last scene and leaving an open end, enough for a possible sequel that I hope will not occur!
All of the characters, with the exception of the lead, are juiced-up on adrenaline when they arrive at the haunted sanatorium. None of them react scared or crept out, once the first paranormal activities start happening: for instance a door that shuts inexplicably or something appearing and disappearing in front of the camera. Along the second act, however, nearly all of the personas shift from being irritatingly stupid to annoyingly hysteric.
Sonja Gerhardt plays the main lead Marnie, a YouTuber with a channel talking about the confrontation of fear. She does not have that many followers and thus joins the group and their challenge, in the hopes of gathering more subscription numbers if she appears in one of the more prominent German YouTube channels. She has a bad feeling from the beginning about the place, believing it to be a mistake to stay. Gerhardt gave, next to Trinks, one of the better performances. She acts disturbed and scared, trying to control her fears but failing at times.
The characters of Charly and Finn, portrayed by Emilio Sakraya and Timmi Trinks respectively, are most annoying. They are the leads and creators of a YouTube channel that focuses on pranks, at times going even so far as to break the law, for more clicks. Both characters are very unlikeable, especially that of Sarkaya who is a selfish idiot. Trinks surprised by being extremely irritating along the first half, then changing his performance to a more scared but likeable persona,along the second part of the runtime.
Nilam Farooq impersonates the fourth vlogger of the group, Betty, who operates a beauty channel. Betty is a one-dimensional persona with no background story. Pate and second writer Ziedrich tried to add some past family drama, to make her more interesting but failed miserably at doing so. Her primary task is to act as a romantic partner for Finn and be the perfect victim, she isn’t given any further function.
Tim Oliver Schultz plays Theo, an educated young man working at a tourism company, who offer guided tours through the hospitals. Schultz is misunderstood and plays a seemingly lonesome person, who has been categorised by others as a nerd.
This being a found footage flick, means amateur camera-work and a lot of shaky-cam. However, this movie does take it too far, inserting zoomed in shots that cut of half of a face or shaking the picture so intensely during scary scenes, that it is impossible to follow what is happening on screen. In addition to these annoying cinematographic errors, weird cuts are being implemented at random spots and along the last 20 minutes, it makes use of a ridiculous montage sequence, meant as exposition for the twist in the third act. The effects, on the other hand, are not that bad.
Verdict: I was severely disappointed by this German found-footage film, even with the low expectations I had when walking into the cinema. I wasn’t hoping for a groundbreaking new turn of the genre but simply wanted to be entertained. Granted, the last act has a couple of creepy moments, but the shock factors are mostly created by cheap and fake jump scares. The twist at the end is completely unnecessary and horribly executed. It incorporates a message, criticising a specific type of YouTube influencer and topics, as well as the platforms current subscription trend, yet it only scratches the surface of the problem without delving deep into the matter. The characters are either one-dimensional or simply unlikeable to such a degree, that the audience doesn’t care anymore for the person. Exceptions are Sonja Gerhardt and Timmi Trinks, who give alright performances. The real horror comes from the terrible quality of this production. I will give Heilstätten a 3 out of 10.
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