I love a good ghost story, and have a fascination with all things Alcatraz, so when I saw The Haunting of Alcatraz in my local supermarket, I barely hesitated before picking it up.
The Haunting of Alcatraz, set in 1937, follows Charlie Schmidt getting his first job as a night guard in famed prison Alcatraz after pressure from his wealthy, successful father. Charlie joins established guard Al Bradbury in D block, also known as solitary, and quickly learns that cell 13 is not a normal cell. He befriends prison nurse Sherry Vallens who is as normal as D block is strange. During his duties, Charlie becomes uncomfortable with some of what he’s asked to do, and as the warden is more interested in the prison having an impeccable record than accuracy, problems start to brew.
The opening scene tells Woods’ story – and how he came to haunt cell 13 – setting the scene in solitary confinement on Alcatraz and introducing some of the characters. A great start but it unfortunately went downhill from there. Despite the title, there was minimal supernatural elements that’ll leave ghost-fans disappointed and wanting more. Throughout the film the acting was poor – for example, I’m sure fights were quite common at Alcatraz, but they came across as so tame in the film it was disjointed when protagonist Charlie Schmidt reveals large bruises on his ribs after one of these “fights”.
Fellow guard Al Bradbury’s slow drawl adds atmosphere to the film, giving a sense of boredom to the job, there’s no urgency or drama, and was great for annoying Charlie but became a little frustrating since the pace of the film was already quite slow. It was just one layer too much.
Films don’t need a large cast to work, the first Saw film had fewer than twenty characters and focused on two, however The Haunting of Alcatraz felt flat. No extras were seen in the background – inmates squabbling or guards patrolling – despite the mentions of there being hundreds of men on the island. It felt like the seven characters in the film were there alone.
I liked the concept and think it had potential, I really liked the ghost of Woods’ haunting D block, but the execution wasn’t there, it was disjointed, poorly acted, and lacking supernatural elements for a film with ‘haunting’ in the title. I don’t know if it was a lack of budget that caused these issues but I personally don’t recommend and won’t be rewatching. However, if someone remakes this film, let me know.