Fantastic Fest Review: SENSORIA

"You will believe a ghost can do the Wilhelm scream."

A movie about people walking up and down stairs, Sensoria is a ghost story that doesn’t know where it’s going, or how to build tension while getting there.

Caroline Menard (Lanna Ohlsson) is a lady who moves into an apartment building with a dark history, and you can tell where the plot is going from minute one. She’s in her late 30's and is a bit of a mess, having just broken up with her boyfriend, and her mom recently dying. Rather than treating this as a new lease on life, she is distraught that this is it, that she’s condemned to a life of loneliness. Caroline openly laments to her one and only friend, who has the family she so desires, that she will never have one of her own.

And hey! This place is a mess, too. Dishes are flying off shelves, she’s having crazy dreams, and she hears creepy sounds all night. Things are constantly showing up in the background behind her, although she doesn’t hear the loud stings of music that accompany them.

Her new apartment building is full of creepy characters too, including a nosy landlady, a pervy upstairs neighbor, and a blind man that knows her by scent. Are they being weird for weirdness’ sake? Could be, as Sensoria is full of red herrings disguising a pretty straightforward haunting tale. It only gets more obvious when a little girl shows up out of nowhere and starts playing with Caroline, and her neighbors make references to horrible events occurring to the apartment’s former tenants.

But who is Caroline? She’s depressed from a traumatic event and takes pills to treat it, but she is a mystery, a shell of a character. She doesn’t appear to have a job, or at least doesn’t go to it or mention it once during her entire stay at this apartment. She reads a book at one point, but otherwise her character is solely that of a lonely lady, with no depth to her.

It’s a shame the direction is so scattershot because Ohlsson is a remarkable actress and conveys some really tough emotions in this, and without her the film would be an absolute bust. But as for a scary film - it already is.

You know those spooky movies where a character moves a mirror or a cabinet and a ghost appears behind them with a loud noise? This happens here about half a dozen times, the obvious scare choreographed way ahead of time. One nice little jump scare might surprise us, despite being before in hundreds of movies, but doing it over and over just reeks of a film that doesn’t know how to keep the audience's interest. It's quite well made, but like many failed horror films it tries to create tension through non-stop scares, not realizing that that’s only a path to boredom.

The lack of direction is easily proved by the numerous trips up and down the stairs of her apartment building, as she brings her boxes to the storage upstairs multiple times (oh, and there’s spooky GHOST sounds!) and her clothes to the laundry (with GHOSTS!), moving up and down and up and down. There was a MST3K episode whose movie escapes me where the crew ripped on it for showing, in-depth, every time someone got into a car, drove off, and parked it. Think about that here, but with people carrying boxes up multiple sets of stairs. There’s an equally recurring series of scenes where she turns on lights in room and walks through them.

Repetition is the name of the game. The genre influences for this film are obvious - it owes a lot to Polanski's The Tenant - but it’s also one of those movies where you know what’s going on long before the main character does, and it’s all you can do to stop from yelling at the screen and demanding they see the obvious. There’s nothing worse than an oblivious protagonist who doesn’t try to do anything to change their fate.

Anyone want to play a drinking game where you take a shot whenever someone walks up stairs? You’ve found your movie. Those looking for a great ghost story better keep looking.