Saturday 9 March 2019

Dr Balden Cross: Beyond the Void (UK 2018: Dir David Fenn and Tom Lee Rutter)

The latest curio from Tom Lee Rutter, director of the excellent 2017 short Bella in the Wych Elm, is an affectionate nod to mystical science programmes of the 1970s and 1980s, and another brilliant exercise in the accumulation of random Fortean facts; it's even got bit of found footage thrown in for good measure - now that's what I call a half hour well spent.

With co-director David Fenn, the pair have lovingly constructed a faux documentary (containing other faux documentaries within it) around the imagined character of Dr Balden Cross - played by Fenn - who is described as "the enigmatic anti-hero of the paranormal investigation community." He's a scholar of the arcane who makes the transition from closeted intellectual to TV host, and whose lifelong pledge is to convey a message from the beyond after his passing.

Fenn and Rutter have a lot of fun creating Cross's world. The first section of the documentary charts the Doctor's life, from his birth in 1919, covering his scholastic career and increasing interest in the occult, leading to the establishment of the PMRI (Paratheological and Metaphysical Research Institute to you) in 1971; PMRI funds his first TV show, 'The Midnight Hour,' a kind of stepping stone to a career in TV and film - Cross was in the 1976 feature 'A Coffin for Lady Dracula' - sadly not a real movie - before his death in 1982. The documentary concludes with a seance held to test whether Cross is as good as his word in terms of returning from beyond the grave.

Like Bella before it, Beyond the Void is lighthearted in delivery but takes its research seriously, seamlessly integrating fact and fiction in reconstructing Cross's life, fake news creeping onto the pages of newspapers and a sly Doris Stokes reference too. Hauntology fans will get a kick out of Rutter and Fenn's spot on recreation of 1970s TV shows, from the idents (the WTV Wessex logo) to the VHS-y look; it's no surprise that VHS artists Cassandra Sechler and Craig Jacobson were involved with the production (you can read my interview with the pair here).

As Dr. Cross Fenn plays the character with more than a whiff of the pomposity of Garth Marenghi, and while he may seem a little sprightly for the character's actual age, I'll put that down to a side effect of his overall strangeness. The rest of the cast - including a very much up for it Norman J Warren - are clearly having a lot of fun, and the final sequence made this viewer jump - an unexpectedly dark finale. Beyond the Void is as enjoyable both as a faux documentary as a story in its own right. Try and see it if you can.

A trailer is here.

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