First published by EyeforFilm
"I always tell people that the paranormal’s a bit like the stockmarket. It’s always above us in the ether, it’s not physical, but when it falls it makes a tremendous impact."
This is how Eddie Brewer (Ian Brooker), an old-school paranormal investigator and eccentric curmudgeon, explains his field. His choice of a financial metaphor to describe the workings of the supernatural will turn out to be doubly apt in The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, both because Andrew Spencer’s second feature (following 2001’s Dark Eyes) has been made on a very low budget, and because one of the film’s recurrent motifs – and signifiers of an otherworldly presence – is a coin tumbling noisily out of thin air.
However much he was required to pinch his own pennies, Spencer has elaborated a story so richly overdetermined that viewers cannot help but become disoriented by all the questions raised and unanswered. "You can," as Eddie himself puts it, "sometimes miss something sensational on the audio for concentrating too much on the visual" – and so here the uncanny and the ineffable are conjured out of intelligent editing and masterfully creepy sound design rather than whizzbang VFX.
There is, indeed, something strange going on at Rookery House, a Birmingham council block built in the early 18th century and once owned by rumoured occultist Foster Harbinger. Electrician Ray Riddle (Peter Wight) refuses to return to the recently opened cellar after hearing a woman walking and a child crying down there. Upstairs, things have been moved about or gone missing altogether, and there are odd power surges, while in the public bathroom toilets flush and taps run by themselves. Maybe the house is haunted by ghosts, or there is witchraft and demonic possession afoot, or "time slips" have materialised – or, in a building full of dodgy wiring, ancient plumbing and suggestibly paranoid inhabitants, "there might," as Eddie suggests, "be a more mundane explanation".
Eddie is a true agnostic in a world of blind believers and hardened rationalists, but as a widower, he is also someone whose life has been touched by loss and loneliness – and so he seems perfectly, personally placed to get to the bottom of what is happening. Followed by a small television crew, he interviews the Rookery residents and takes the measure of the cellar, while simultaneously investigating reported poltergeist activity at two other homes across town.
One of these cases is easily solved, but events at Rookery House and the Blakewell Residence do not so readily accommodate rational explanation, and begin to appear unnaturally interrelated. As Eddie’s usually jovial expression turns increasingly grave, the television network brings in his long-term archrival, the fanatically skeptical, media-hungry Dr Susan Kovac (Louise Paris), as well as a team of more modern paranormal investigators, and turns Rookery House into an overnight psychic circus from which no one will emerge unaffected.
Blending ‘found’ with ‘objective’ footage, Brummy banality with Gothic horror, and reason-defying goings-on with a running meta-commentary from the partisan players, The Casebook of Eddie Brewer invites viewers not so much to understand what it shows as to experience it for themselves in all its raw inexplicability and, amidst a chorus of clashing views on memory, perception and judgment, to attempt to retrieve some sense. After all, as Susan points out: "We comfort ourselves trying to make meaning from chaos."
When his cases are over – even if they remain inconclusive – Eddie stores the associated artifacts in a cabinet of curiosities, as tangible mementoes of what he is unable, or at least reluctant, to explain away in words. This film can similarly be filed away as a singular curiosity, although by the time it is finished, viewers too will struggle to articulate exactly what they have seen and heard happen, as Spencer leaves us all reeling from the impactful sound of his fallen coin, and yet still waiting for the penny to drop. Whatever, both Spencer’s and his viewers’ money is well spent on this quirky homegrown chiller.