Spirits in the Dark – Hungary, UK, USA, 2019

‘Death is not the end’

Spirits in the Dark is a 2019 Hungarian-British-American horror feature film written, directed by and starring József Gallai (Blood Tales segment ‘Echoes’; A Guidebook to Killing Your Ex; Moth). The movie also features Ágota Dunai, Peter Cosgrove and Beáta Boldog.

Plot:

A mysterious video on a lonely man’s computer leads him to an abandoned house occupied by an ominous entity…

Review:

An abandoned building is just inherently creepy.

Think about it. Unlike a forest or a mountain or a canyon, a building is not something that forms naturally. People actually have to build buildings. Plans have to be drawn up. Materials have to purchased. Hours of backbreaking labour are required. Creating a building requires work, resources, and time. It’s not something that you do on a whim. It’s something that’s done as a part of a larger plan. With all of the effort that goes into creating the building, it’s always strange to come across one that has subsequently been abandoned. You find yourself wondering what could have happened that made the inhabitants or the owners say, “We’d rather have all that hard work be for nothing than remain in this location?”

Walking through an abandoned building, it’s difficult not to think about the fact that, once upon a time, strangers that you’ll probably never meet moved through these now deserted hallways. People worked in those empty rooms. For a period of time, the building was probably the center of someone’s life. Where are those people now? Do they ever think about the past? Do they still have memories of things that were said or thought while walking through those now-empty hallways?

Finally, there’s the constant reminders that even an abandoned building isn’t never truly abandoned. There’s the animals that move in after the people leave. There’s the plants the continue to grow around and, in some cases, consume the empty structure. And, of course, there’s the reminders that you might not be the first person to have explored this empty building. There’s the broken windows or the empty bottles or the crumpled cigarette pack, all of which remind you that others may even consider this building to be their home. And, of course, there’s the graffiti. Graffiti and abandoned buildings tend to go hand-in-hand. For whatever reason, it’s often the graffiti that makes an abandoned building feel especially ominous. Are those words on the wall a sign of ownership, an act of rebellion, or a warning?

Of course, the only thing more creepy than one abandoned building is when you come across an entire town of abandoned buildings….

And yet, as creepy as an empty building can be, it’s also hard not to be fascinated by them. You look at them and you wonder why? Why did everyone leave and how long will the building stand there deserted before it’s either torn down or destroyed by nature? That’s one reason why ghost towns remains such a popular tourist destination.They’re a reminder of just how short and fragile life can be. You can build a home or an office but, once your time is up, it’s just going to be another abandoned building.

That’s something that Gil Spencer, the protagonist of Spirits in the Dark, understands. Gil (played by the film’s director, Jozsef Gallai) used to love exploring abandoned buildings with his wife. Ever since his wife’s death, Gil has struggled with being lonely and depressed. But then, one day, something mysteriously appears on his laptop. It appears to be a video shot by someone exploring an abandoned military complex. The person shooting the video comes across a white pendant, one that looks exactly like the one that Gil’s wife used to wear. While the person holds the pendant, we catch a glimpse of a ghostly figure standing a few feet away, watching.

Intrigued, Gil searches for and manages to track down the deserted complex. As creepy as the abandoned and graffiti-covered buildings may be, Gil — who films his exploration — informs us that it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. Even when he spots blood on the wall, he figures that it was probably just someone shooting “an indie horror film.” But then, he comes across a mask hanging in a corner. And then his car’s horn starts honking for no reason. And then, things start to get really creepy.

Spirits in the Dark is a haunting and moody exercise in atmosphere and genuine dread. Wisely, instead of going for easy jump scares, the film takes its time to set up both the location and the situation. We get to know Gil and, as he makes his way through them, we also get to know the abandoned building and the surrounding wilderness. Like Gil, we find ourselves looking at every shadow, searching for some sort of explanation. Just like Gil, we can feel the menacing atmosphere closing in on us and we become aware of every strange noise and every possible movement in the darkness. When the scares do come, they’re all the more effective because the film has earned the right to frighten us. It’s a wonderfully effective and creepy movie, one that has an intriguing plot and which is distinguished by the moody cinematography and the ominous score, both of which are credited to Gergo Elekes.

Lisa Marie Bowman, HORRORPEDIA – Guest reviewer via Through the Shattered Lens

Other reviews:

“The plot itself was almost nonexistent. All of the “gore” looked incredibly fake. I’ve seen better props at Spirit Halloween in the clearance bin. The most realistic looking part of this film were the trees. The “special effects” didn’t exist and the “action” doesn’t even start until the 45 minute mark.” Leslie Melville, Crypt Teaze

“Ponderous beyond words, though shot in and around an effectively foreboding location, this descends into repetitive and uneventful scenes of Gallai wandering around, accompanied by his breathing and banal voiceover, failing to generate the intended sense of dread […] After about half an hour, you can feel yourself age.” Steven West, Horrorscreams Videovault

“The setting is a terrifying, palpable presence, with an atmosphere that weighs on you even through the screen. Best of all, the ending makes you think. It’s a creepy and compelling film from József Gallai, who also wrote and directed, that gives another layer to the usual abandoned building tropes.” Laura MacLeod, The Movie Critic Next Door

Spirits in the Dark is a great low-budget film, full of atmosphere and some very nice shots and wonderfully appropriate music. Despite a relatively short run-time, the movie can feel long in parts and, whilst I think I understand what Gallai was trying to do with the ending, I’m not sure he quite managed to pull it off. Still, Spirits in the Dark is a nicely put together film.” OC Movie Reviews

“This film won’t be for everyone, there is an awful lot of exploration footage before things really start to get weird and if you’re after gore you won’t find it here, this is slow burning unease rather than jump scares and blood. It is all beautifully filmed, edited and lit and extremely well presented.” Stephen Sid Jardine, Road Rash Reviews

” …Spirits in the Dark‘s main focus is firmly on atmosphere, and the rather impressive camerawork surely delivers in droves, so much so that even the abundance of first person shots […] look very moody and are beautifully shot, with an emphasis on decay and emptiness, perfectly mirroring the lead character’s own mindset.” Mike Haberfelner, Search My Trash

” …some will no doubt appreciate the minimalism, and honestly, there is some curiosity in trying to decipher just exactly what is going on and why. […] Gallai has a keen eye when he’s not walking up and down narrow halls, a few moments outside these decrepit buildings handled very well. A deeply sincere effort…” David Duprey, That Moment In

“The time it takes to get going, and the long stretches composed of footage of deserted buildings will turn some people off. It’s not even like these are extraordinary buildings with interesting architecture. They’re about as plain as it gets. If you like found footage then you’ll have a better chance of enjoying this.” Jim Morazzini, Voices from the Balcony

Cast and characters:

  • József Gallai … Gil
  • Ágota Dunai … Hester
  • Peter Cosgrove … Olly
  • Beáta Boldog … Stephanie
  • Zsófia Gallai … Infant
  • Shawn Michael Clankie … Dispatcher (voice)
  • Gergö Elekes … Old Man
  • Hepi … Dog

Production companies:

Hepifilms-Elekes Pictures-Lazy Cat Films-Gloomy Sunday Productions

Technical credits:

70 minutes | 1.78: 1

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