Set up like a found footage film, Dan Patrick McCarthy’s feature film Parapsychology 101 pieces together footage purportedly from an untitled and unfinished documentary about the tragic events surrounding a unique class at Middlesex University in 2011. Professor Allen Greer (Joe Walz) has tasked his students with recording all of their Parapsychology 101 assignments, assignments which include attempting to manipulate various items and their surroundings solely with their minds. As the class rolls along, some students excel at their homework, and the class experiences numerous phenomenon that is not easily explained away by traditional science. Professor Greer’s motives are never very clear, however, and his escalation in experimenting with his fledgling telekinetics walks them all down an increasingly dangerous road.
From the very beginning, we know that things did not end well for Greer and his class. Interviews are done looking back at the tragedy that is to come, while the film otherwise reveals itself via the various footage caught by either student cameras or cameras set up in the back of the class. It’s a relatively matter-of-fact affair of science on the fringes, and it often plays out as if you’re sitting in on the class with the students.
Except, you know, this is a found footage mockumentary, and elements have added dramatic and narrative heft as the film rolls along. At one point, the film breaks the found footage idea entirely to illustrate a flashback, but it’s theoretically forgivable in that the film does state that the footage is from an unfinished documentary, and thus that footage could’ve been added by the mystery doc filmmakers for dramatic effect.
Since this is a faux-documentary experience, don’t expect perfect sound and visuals. It revels in its concept, cutting together footage from phones to video cameras, creating a naturalistic, yet dirty, aesthetic. The result enhances the more fantastical elements of telekinesis in the film, as the footage hides the effects work well under its lo-fi feel. That said, the few shots of footage with the various display elements on screen, like the battery gauge and the like, felt like one step too far into cluttered reality.
Ultimately, Parapsychology 101 is an interesting film, if not always an entertaining one. Since it does play out often like you’re sitting in on a class, it sometimes feels that way to its detriment. The extra narrative elements that make it more of an overall story do come together, but the film brings them out slowly and thus, if your attention span is like that of more than a few of the students early on in the class, you might find elements of this film tedious. Overall, though, I think the film delivers a number of intriguing ideas about traditional science, fringe science, student-teacher ethics and even school violence, and utilizes the oft-repeated found footage technique in a novel enough way to be appreciated.
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