When scanning the DVD shelves* for a recent horror flick, the serious expert knows to look for a few things. If, for example, you see the memorable banner from an "After Dark" or "Ghost House" franchise or (lord help you) the "Maneater" series, then you're at least starting from a place of brand recognition. Then the horror fan with a few bucks and 90 minutes to kill will generally scan the premise on the back of the box (which always reads a lot cooler than the movie is; toy commercials do the same thing), and then check to see if they recognize any of the actors or (if they're true experts) the writer(s) and director. So the recent (but weirdly titled) Psych: 9 passes a few tests: it's a "Ghost House" title, which means it springs from the same distributor that gave you Stag Night, Boogeyman 3, and 30 Days of Night: Dark Days. We should expect a little better from Sam Raimi's distribution arm, I agree.
The film also has a generic but potentially creepy premise: a young and pretty, but seriously unhinged woman agrees to work (brace yourselves) the graveyard shift in an abandoned hospital ... alone. Apparently she's supposed to be filing things, which is a silly way to set up a cool location, but whatever: cute girl (Sara Foster) in a huge, empty location ... well, empty except for the oddly amiable doctor from the floor above. (And the glaring security guard.) Oh, and then there's the nosy detective who keeps popping in to question our semi-heroine about a series of brutal murders! There's also some tangential stuff about secrets hidden in some of the files, a chunk of domestic unrest with the gal's truly hateful cab driver of a husband, and a vague yet boring back-story about a tragedy from the past.
So basically, writer Lawrence Robinson and director Andrew Shortell saw a bunch of horror flicks at the festivals, grabbed a few components, and grafted them into Psych: 9. It aims to be a mystery, a "twist ending" psycho-thriller, a gory horror flick, and a fractured character study at once. The parts rarely mesh.
But it's not a completely lost cause, truth be told. I haven't mentioned that the kooky doctor is played by Cary Elwes and that the snooping cop is actually Michael Biehn. Heck, that sentence alone just earned Psych: 9 a few extra downloads on Netflix Watch Instant. Also worthy of note, and then some, is the virtually feral performance by Gabriel Mann as one of the most mean-spirited and angry young husbands on earth. If Mr. Shortell's direction to Mann was "be as hateful as humanly possible for no good reason," then they both succeeded at the intended goal. And for a film that's fairly light on plot, Psych: 9 moves pretty well, keeps you guessing to some small degree (if only because there's so much weird stuff going on), delivers a few juicy screenplay clunkers and arcane plot divergences, and features a solid little score. (Hey, fair's fair.)
* Who am I kidding? Nobody scans DVD shelves. I meant Netflix queues and Redbox screens and iPad: The Multiplex apps and such.