Sydney Film Festival Review: ‘Spookers’

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This review is part of a wrap from Sydney Film Festival 2017. Read more here.

It’s got killer clowns and zombie brides and a cot full of two-headed babies. And guess what? Spookers was one of the nicest, most heart-warming films of the entire Sydney Film Festival.

Directed by Florian Habicht, who previously helmed Pulp, this kooky documentary chronicles the daily routine at the title institution, an enormous ‘scream park’ located just outside of Auckland. Situated on the site of an old psychiatric hospital, Spookers is essentially a gigantic haunted house — albeit one that’s a hell of a lot more elaborate than the crappy fairground version you might have visited when you were a kid. In fact, the place is so notoriously intense that Habicht almost turned down the offer to make the documentary at all.

Lucky for us, he got over his fears. And honestly, it’s not hard to see why. Peel back the Halloween masks and wash away the fake blood, and the people behind Spookers could hardly be any sweeter. The park is run by married couple, Beth and Andy Watson, who serve as surrogate parents to their misfit family of employees. For this close-knit crew of amateur performers, who devise their own characters and learn to apply their own prosthetics, dressing up as monsters and maniacs doubles as a form of therapy — a way of dealing with everything from low self-esteem and shyness to, in one young man’s case, an HIV diagnosis.

Thankfully, the film contrasts the heavy stuff with a healthy dose of deadpan Kiwi humour. “Code brown” comes the call over the walkie-talkie, a signal that a frightened costumer has made… well, a little bit of a mess. Then there’s the revelation that scream queen Beth has never actually seen a horror movie. “I don’t like being scared” she says. Seems like she’s made a bit of a weird career choice, but who am I to judge?

Tom Clift is Junkee’s weekend and morning editor. He also writes for Concrete Playground, is the co-founder of Movie Mezzanine, and tweets sporadically at @tom_clift