Steelmanville Road is a paranormal found footage horror movie written and directed by Nigel Bach. The film is a prequel to Nigel Bach’s previous film Bad Ben (2016), and takes place entirely in the same house. The movie depicts what occurred in the months immediately preceding the events of Bad Ben (2016).
Steelmanville Road tells the story of Rachel (Jessica Partridge) and Matt (Christopher Partridge), who unexpectedly inherit a house from Rachel’s recently deceased birth mother. After moving into the house, the couple is soon plagued by mysterious sounds, objects moving on their own, and other inexplicable phenomena.
Matt and Rachel initially enlist the help of Matt’s friend Silas (Ian Mullin), who installs surveillance cameras in and around the house. The couple is disturbed enough by the captured footage that they contact Jason (AJ Mendini), the lawyer who tracked Rachel down when she inherited the house. The lawyer puts the couple in touch with an old woman named Mona (Jeanne Sutton), a friend of Rachel’s mother. When Mona visits the couple in their new home, she has a disturbing tale to tell about Rachel’s past and the terrifying events that have plagued her family for generations.
Found Footage Cinematography
Steelmanville Road consists primarily of footage captured by surveillance cameras placed in and around the house, but also makes use of other video sources complementing the surveillance footage. The opening scenes of the film are shot using either a handheld video camera or cell phone camera as Rachel surprises her husband with the house that she just inherited. The camera type used in this scene and other early scenes filmed by Rachel are never revealed. After the couple installs the house-wide surveillance cameras, they take over as Steelmanville Road’s sole source of footage for the remainder of the story, except for a brief computer screen capture recording and an outdoor scene near the very end (neither of which is easily explained).
Overall the cinematography feels quite authentic for found footage. A disclaimer at the beginning of Steelmanville Road explains that the footage was “digitally enhanced in spots and edited for relevance,” but other than a few zoom-ins (and ignoring the sometimes obvious use of special effects), the surveillance footage generally feels raw and untouched.
The film’s predecessor Bad Ben (2016) had various, often distracting indicators blinking on top of the video. Steelmanville Road foregoes everything other than a location name in the upper left corner. This simpler approach is a definite improvement in many respects, so the break in continuity between films can be forgiven. In addition to the modified onscreen display, Steelmanville Road may have benefited from the inclusion of a timestamp or occasional captions to indicate the passage of time. Steelmanville Road contains several instances in which the film jumps forward in time between scenes, but this time jump is not immediately apparent, which can be jarring.
The reason for filming in Steelmanville Road changes and varies in quality throughout the movie. Most of the footage throughout the film is captured from a surveillance system, which is fully plausible given that a robust system can automatically record footage from multiple cameras 24×7. The early scenes of the film, prior to the installation of the surveillance cameras, are difficult to justify at times. The initial scene in which Rachel wants to document her husband’s reaction to learning of the inheritance is believable. And the idea that Rachel wants to record occasional status updates for friends and family is fine in theory, but her reasons for continuing to film after she is interrupted, and why she sometimes reorients the video camera or takes it with her after finishing her status updates are less clear.
Once Rachel starts experiencing strange things inside the home, husband Matt agrees to have his friend Silas install the surveillance system. Rachel wants the surveillance cameras since she is often left in the house alone while her husband is away at work, and she feels uncomfortable living in a big house near the woods. For reasons explained in the film, the couple disables the surveillance system for several months, resulting in a lack of footage for that period.
While the surveillance system does provide a reasonably solid filming justification for the majority of the footage, the execution contains a few incongruities. During one scene in the couple’s bedroom, Rachel is observed undressing before making a rude gesture toward the video camera and then disabling it. This wasn’t the first night after the surveillance cameras were installed, so it is not clear why she wouldn’t have objected to the surveillance camera in her bedroom earlier in the film, or why she would have agreed to its installation there in the first place.
In a scene toward the end of the movie, a character reviews surveillance footage on a laptop and the film presents his playback session, including mouse movements and button clicks. Why that footage would exist is difficult to rationalize.
One of the final scenes of Steelmanville Road is an outdoor shot filmed some distance from the house. There is no location indicator to imply that this scene is recorded by one of the surveillance cameras. The video camera location is of some significance, as this particular shot relates directly to events in Bad Ben (2016). In the previous film, this particular location was presented only through cell phone footage, which further corroborates the lack of a surveillance camera. While the scene certainly helps cement a tie between the two films, it would have been nice if some attempt had been made to justify the existence of that footage.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity is a measure of how well a film comes across as actual found footage. The purity of Steelmanville Road‘s footage is generally good, using a formula very similar to that of Bad Ben‘s surveillance scenes. The film consists of raw footage that has been minimally edited and spliced together to form the narrative.
Steelmanville Road makes more liberal use of sound effects than Bad Ben (2016)—at times including actual voices, sometimes played in reverse. While the film is occasionally unclear as to whether these sounds are only being picked up by the camera or if the characters can also hear them, the sounds are always presented as having a paranormal source in the movie and thus do not break any found footage rules.
Immersion and Realism
Steelmanville Road makes occasional use of the same night vision effect introduced in Bad Ben (2016). This film does not, however, include unrealistic night vision cell phone footage as its predecessor did. The narrative states very early on that the surveillance cameras are old military surplus, explaining why the night vision is a vivid green rather than the more typical black and white imagery indicative of newer video cameras.
The special effects used in Steelmanville Road, particularly concerning the character Elijah (Alex Pallen), are not unsubtle. During night vision scenes, Elijah is color-masked to make his paranormal nature more apparent—he is the only black and white object in otherwise green surroundings. Elijah’s appearances are sometimes accompanied by various sound effects, including very obvious human speech played in reverse. In other scenes with natural lighting, no visual effects are applied to Elijah, and he also occasionally speaks normally—these inconsistencies are stark and may break immersion for some viewers.
Other paranormal events in the film are equally jarring. At one point, a character carries a conversation with the disembodied voice of a spirit. Later, a creature depicted by an actor in a less-then-realistic costume enters the home and walks by one of the surveillance cameras. These low-grade effects may have been more appropriate in the previous film Bad Ben (2016), which had a comedic and irreverent tone, but they feel out of place in the darker and more serious atmosphere that Steelmanville Road attempts to cultivate.
The atmosphere and tone are probably the most obvious difference between this film and Bad Ben (2016). While Bad Ben (2016) could get away with otherwise potentially immersion-breaking elements due to the film’s satirical bent and Tom Riley’s charisma and dry wit present throughout the story, it is much more difficult to forgive similar elements in Steelmanville Road due to the more serious tone.
Acting and Plot
No one in the cast of Steelmanville Road has any prior acting credits to their name, aside from Nigel Bach who reprises his role as Tom Riley very briefly at the end to provide a segue into Bad Ben (2016). The casts’ lack of experience comes through particularly during noticeable struggles to get through lines of adversarial dialog between the characters. The film’s best performances are delivered by Jessica Partridge and Christopher Partridge, playing the married couple Rachel and Matt, and Ian Mullin as friend Silas—but even so, their acting is somewhat uneven and occasionally falls flat.
The relationships between the characters are often confusing, hard to pin down, and somewhat inconsistent. The antagonistic relationship between Rachel and Matt’s friend Silas is unconvincing, very quickly transitioning from friend to untrusted adversary without a believable motivation. At one point Rachel’s feelings towards Mona waffle between expressing suspicion, hugging like they are old friends, and forcibly evicting her from the house over the course of only a few scenes. The film is somewhat unclear as to whether Mona herself actually wants to help the couple, or is somehow complicit in the terrible things that happen to them. Attempting to discern the characters’ motivations for their various actions is often an exercise in futility.
The overall plot is weighted down by unneeded complexity. At the topmost level, the film is about a couple who inherit a house, discover terrible things about it and their own past, and are forced to suffer as history gradually repeats itself. Several plot elements are interjected as very obvious nods to Bad Ben (2016), such as the insistence that certain objects be placed in the house to keep spirits out, and the origin story of the crude crayon artwork that debuted in the previous movie. The film takes great care to explicitly highlight these ties, even when they make little sense and seem forced. Steelmanville Road may have benefited from taking a more subtle approach to tying back to the events in Bad Ben (2016).
While Bad Ben (2016) was a charmingly self-aware film that forged new territory in the found footage genre, the prequel’s shift to a more serious tone and various other challenges ultimately results in a film that doesn’t quite stack up to the original. Despite the film’s challenges, Steelmanville Road does offer answers to many of the mysteries raised in the first chapter of the story, Bad Ben (2016).