A Ghost in the Machine: Haunting Melissa (2013)

Haunting Melissa

Haunting Melissa is the revolutionary brainchild of producer Neal Edelstein (the Ring) and writer Andrew Klavin (True Crime). This is no run-of the-mill movie watching experience, either. In fact, the project was filmed and designed with the intention of “reinventing” the way in which we view horror media forever.

Directed by Edelstein, Haunting Melissa has actually been marketed as an app. As a result, the film segments can be watched on your iPhone or iPad, or can be streamed from the device onto your Apple TV. There is a catch, however: Haunting Melissa is only available one chapter at a time, and nobody’s saying when those subsequent chapters will even be available!

The first 17-minute segment can be downloaded for free from Apple’s App Store, while subsequent “chapters” – which are basically webisodes – can be bought individually or by purchasing a season’s pass. Push notifications will then alert the app user as to when the next chapter is available. In this way, the user will be kept on his or her toes as they wait tensely, oh ever so tensely, for that next proverbial shoe to drop.

The ride itself, instantly reminds the seasoned horror fan of such films as Paranormal Activity or the Blair Witch Project as the story unfolds through computer and handheld video recording device footage. Similar to certain aforementioned movies, we’re also told at the beginning of the story that these recordings are from before Melissa went missing.

In the first chapter, we find out that Melissa’s dad is on a “trip” while her boyfriend has stayed at college late into the summer. With Melissa’s mom having passed away 3 months prior, as well, she’s pretty much living all on her own in that creepy old farmhouse. A friend – Holly – comes over and the girls discuss the strange happenings that have been surrounding Melissa as-of-late (such as her computer recording her without being prompted). As the girls search the house for clues, we learn that Melissa’s mom became religious and that her “mind got all messed up” shortly before she became really sick. As a result, there are crucifixes and religious paraphernalia adorning the home everywhere. Additionally, the room that Melissa’s mom actually died in has been deemed off limits by Melissa’s absentee pa. While we’re observing the girls exploring the dark creepy farmhouse, a couple of strange things do start to happen; but I’ll refrain from giving those ones away.

All in all, the first chapter does grip the viewer’s attention enough to actually want to see a little more. The question, though, is for how long? Will I still care what happens to Melissa if I have to wait another week for the next segment of the story? As 11 chapters are currently listed, that could be a lot of waiting time in between these weightwatcher-sized viewing portions. Unless there are a lot more chapters waiting to be revealed, my guess is that the Hooked Digital Media team will want to drag out the viewing experience for as long as humanly possible. I guess, however, only time will tell.

Marketed as a social horror experience that “reinvents how movies are consumed and stories told” there are certain aspects to the app that are more than a little disappointing. The app itself leans heavily on Facebook, so if the user signs in they are prompted at inconvenient times to share the app on their page. Also, the previously mentioned season pass is a fair chunk of change in itself. While marketed online as $6.99 or $14.99 for the HD season pass, the app itself lists the actual prices, at a “discounted rate” of $14.99 or $23.99 for the HD season’s pass! Individual chapters are also promised to be available for purchase. It does seem a little steep, though, all things considered. Additionally, the first free chapter can also be downloaded in HD for .99 more, as well. Despite the extra investment, I could barely see a difference when I watched it a second time myself – but then again, I’m pretty sure I’m going blind.

Finally, I have no idea what actually makes Haunting Melissa an “app” other than the fact it’s been marketed as such. Besides the cool icon of a Japanese-looking ghost girl on my phone, and the unpredictable nature of the arrival of the next chapter, I don’t really see how it’s any different than any other video that I can watch on my phone. Maybe chapters to come will unlock certain ghostly functions, which will somehow make my life a lot more manageable or fulfilling? Hows about an app that sees them dead people damn it?

While I must tip my metaphoric hat towards the Eldelstein/Klavin team at Hooked Digital Media for trying something different, so far, I haven’t seen anything here that’s blown my mind, and yet, that seems to have been their ultimate intention all along. Maybe it’s still a little too early to tell? Either way, for good or for bad, I think I’ll stick around for this ride to see what happens. I just hope, that in the end, my wallet doesn’t turn around and haunt me because of it.

Author: Shanon Sinn

The Spirit of Vancouver Island. Nature Beings, Shapeshifters, Ghosts & Ancestor Spirits. The Earth is Sacred.

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