ANNA: Scary and haunted are two totally different things
GENEVIEVE: Well, we’re going to see about that …
Six students, one haunted plantation… this is their raw footage.
From a fresh young Louisiana filmmaker comes a real-time descent into fear, as the restless demons of the American South are unearthed in an abandoned plantation. Six clever, fun-loving film students pile into a van in search of their big class project: a documentary about a legendary Civil War-era plantation house. Dark rumors of past horrors and strange sightings swirl around the overgrown Lafitte Plantation. But for the students, the creepy atmosphere seems just right for some gripping footage. Only gripping doesn’t even begin to cover it – as they realize something within is very, very wrong. They have stirred up a terrifying torrent of hunger for revenge … and this project could become final in more ways than one.
As soon as the students’ cameras start rolling, the bloodcurdling shocks begin. The footage left behind brings audiences directly into the students’ deeply disturbing experiences, as their questions mount as to what is real, what they’re imagining, and whether they can escape a malevolent presence with an insatiable fury. At once an ode to the old-school scares of the found-footage genre and its own 21st Century, Louisiana twist on it, THE FINAL PROJECT is directed by Taylor R’ichard from a story by R’ichard and Zachary Davis.
The question of whether a house can be haunted has flummoxed and fascinated people since humankind first moved into caves. Can dwellings truly be beset by phantasms, poltergeists or demonic possessions or are some homes merely afflicted with dark memories, the stain of past corruption and primordial fears? To find the answers, by the 20th Century, endless researchers, parapsychologists and the tormented themselves began trying to capture strange household phenomena on film. In the last decade, smart phones, digital cameras and social media have led to more clips of hauntings than ever before … only to have most disproven as visual trickery.
But some footage cannot be dismissed so easily.
The footage uncovered in THE FINAL PROJECT was shot by six University of Southern Louisiana film students. It is apparent that they were planning to complete their final film class assignment by making a documentary about the nearby Lafitte Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. As interviews with the locals reveal, the plantation is a darkly storied landmark, with hushed rumors swirling about its antebellum history, macabre Civil War fatalities and subsequent supernatural activity. There are long-told local tales of chilling encounters with ghostly children and Confederate soldiers. And then there is the mysterious woman—who may have been one of the owners of the plantation— said to appear numinously in the dining room.
With its mystery-laden atmosphere and momentous links to American history, Lafitte Plantation should be the stuff of exciting filmmaking — and it is — but in a way the students couldn’t have imagined in their most horrific dreams.
The remnant footage introduces an affable, wise-cracking group in on the investigation: Anna, the quintessential smart-girl who spearheads the project; Genevieve, a charming, Vacherie-born doubter who calls her mother often; Gavin, Genevieve’s protective boyfriend; Jonah, a hipster who is awkwardly also Genevieve’s ex; Misty, a primped-and-preened all-American socialite; and Ky, a wise-cracking slacker with a devil-may-care attitude.
At the start of their journey they are full of good-natured collegiate verbal jousting and jokes. But before even reaching Vacherie, a shadowy undercurrent is exposed, as amorous jealousies and internal rivalries threaten to undermine the team’s togetherness. These rivalries will soon be the least of their worries … clearly the students have no idea what they will be up against.
Making their way through disorienting foliage to the mansion, they strap themselves with cameras and start probing the grounds, laughing at their anxiety. A slow-building foreboding descends on the group, especially on Genevieve, who seems to have an unsettling connection to the misery of the plantation’s unspeakable past – yet they remain committed.
What happens next is the stuff of legends, lore and campfire ghost tales – but captured in stark cinema verité. It starts with odd figures in the darkness and the jump-scares of sounds in the night. But how much is in their heads and what is really happening? It’s hard to be sure until one of the group’s own seems to become hypnotically possessed. As the full-scale horror begins, panic envelops both the students and anyone who doesn’t look away.
But it’s not just what you see in the footage that is so harrowing. It’s also what you hear: some of most frightening sounds ever experienced on film. Early on, Anna coolly observes that “scary and haunted are two totally different things.” But in the inescapable realism of this footage, imagination and actuality merge into one as the students try to survive THE FINAL PROJECT.
The film not only pays homage to a retro found-footage style, but dips into a Southern history dripping with unsettling ghost stories – with persistent rumors of dozens of unresolved haunted houses in Louisiana alone. Perhaps the most famous, and an inspiration for Lafitte, is Chretien Point, built in 1835, and said to be tormented by a “lady in white” and several other aggrieved spirits. The lady in white is believed to be Felicité Chretien, who inherited the plantation and a reputed fortune after her husband Hypolite died. One night, Madame Chretien awoke to the sounds of thieves creeping up the manor staircase. She shot and killed one of the men and watched him tumble down the stairs. The next day the maids vigorously tried to scrub out the blood from the stairwell, but the stains would not out — they are still visible to this day. Locals say the specter of Madame Chretien is often seen roaming the grounds, ever vigilante and protective of her house, unable to find earthly repose. Two fierce Civil War battles were also fought on the grounds, and sightings of phantom soldiers have terrified visitors. Madame Chretien’s deceased spouse, Hypolite, was a friend to the infamous Louisiana pirate and slave trader Jean Lafitte, who at one point resided on the plantation.
CAVU Pictures presents a 3rd Fathom Entertainment film, THE FINAL PROJECT, featuring the directorial debut of Louisiana native Taylor Ri’chard. The film is written and produced by Zachary Davis and Ri’chard. The cast of newcomers includes Teal Haddock, Arin Jones, Sergio Suave, Amber Erwin, Leonardo Santaiti and Evan McLean.