The set-up is simple: Barry Dodds is the believer in all things supernatural, credulous to the point of gullibility, while Ian Boldsworth is the sceptic, the one who blows down his pal's house of cards with a puff of logic. They created a podcast some time ago which played on their relationship, and it was very successful, with millions of downloads to their credit, so a spin-off was in order and a movie was decided as the best offering. Therefore over a space of a few months they traversed Britain to pick up the best examples of spooky occurrences, Barry with nothing but his faith that they would be real, and Ian bulldozing any hope he could be taken seriously...
In 2021 there was a film released that was based on a Twitter thread, besides which a film based on a podcast looked positively rational, so what you had here was a documentary with a humorous flavour that came across as being more for the fans of the podcast than it was an attempt to bring in any new listeners. That said, while the humour was very podcast-y, less sidesplittingly witty bon mots and more amiable banter between mates winding themselves up, every so often they would stumble across something that genuinely provoked musings over the endless battle between woo and sceptic that plays out across a social media forum near you, neither gaining the upper hand.
Well, you can say that, but Boldsworth clearly has the upper hand here since Dodds' articles of faith are so flimsy as to be pathetic. The sequence where he has the chance to address a sceptics' conference and simply babbles nonsense are as damning as anything else in the film and this is in the first ten minutes of a near-two-hour running time, and we never see an instance of convincing evidence for the rest of it, making you ponder what would happen if Boldsworth had been confronted with someone who had done their research and were not reliant on what amounted to urban myths that Dodds swallowed hook line and sinker. But maybe that was the point: the believers don't have the ammo.
What they do have is their gut feelings, and there's very little scientific about that. When you were a kid and in the house on your own, to pass the time you could have opted to freak yourself out by watching a UFO documentary or read a book of true life ghost stories, and that appears to be what most of the ghost hunters here have never grown out of. But then there's the matter that paranormal events, if they exist, do not manifest to order, indeed most of them seem to happen spontaneously, so the chances of experiencing any of these events on a pre-planned excursion would be next to none, despite what Yvette Fielding may want you to believe. Nevertheless, here Barry does have a moment where he is convinced he has witnessed an apparition, and he is plainly terrified.
What it looks like to the camera is that he saw a sheet on the wall illuminated by torchlight, and nobody else there saw anything, but he will not be swayed, he finally has his eyewitness proof. A convention of these hunts is to carry them out in darkness, offering Ian plentiful opportunities to arse about since this is meant to be a comedy as well as a documentary, so their souped-up hearse takes them to Edinburgh dungeons and drab, unassuming suburban houses. There, a genuinely interesting verbal joust takes place when Ian is confronted with a self-proclaimed psychic who may not be convincing, but certainly gives him an angry response as she grows increasingly foul-mouthed, or perhaps the mysterious "Alan" who has her ear does, but offers the stubborn refusal to see the other's side in this debate. It does go on a bit, presumably to offer value for money, and does settle into a pattern early it doesn't break from, but if you are any way yet to be convinced by the supernatural, you will be satisfied.
[The ParaPod - A Very British Ghost Hunt is coming to select cinemas from 7th September 2021. Find your closest cinema here: parapod.com and don't forget to catch it on VOD from 27th September.]