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The Unbinding [Review]

Greg and Dana Newkirk are the modern versions of Ed & Lorraine Warren (of The Conjuring fame), down to the museum of haunted artifacts. The Newkirk's series, Hellier, was absolutely absorbing and full of weird stuff (synchronicities, anyone?), and their long-form documentary about one cursed object is equally compelling – if you've drunk the Kool-Aid.

The Newkirks are introduced in the first nine minutes as ghost hunting showman and his practicing witch wife with a web coven. And then it's straight into "The Crone," a wooden effigy with nails in its eyes and noose around its neck, found deep in the woods on a Catskills mountain top. Why anyone would touch such a thing or much less decide to take it home is beyond me. The subsequent haunting is expertly shot with nail biting, re-enacted tension.

The rest of the documentary meanders a bit but what comes across is how reckless, or at least cavalier, Greg Newkirk appears to be about haunted objects. HEY – let's take them on a roadshow! They want to give the people a paranormal experience, but those who buy a ticket may not understand what they might be getting in return. Hauntings are not fun in real life. The Warren's also had a museum but they kept it under lock and key, and visitors had strict rules about handling the objects. That makes much more sense.

As documentaries go, I found this engaging all the way through albeit a bit thin on expert-level interviews and research. I also marveled at the way they capture such admittedly intimate rituals, knowing well there is a market that will lap up the footage. Their work is slickly produced, with polished, poised interviews, but it left wanting more authenticity, more grit. Hellier captured some unflattering moments that made them feel more familiar and real. Here, there seems to be a struggle between wanting to be private people but also wanting to have this very public, showy business on display for the world.

I'd like another documentary about The Newkirks, not produced by The Newkirks, to get to the inner workings of who they are as people and practitioners of the occult. They seem both fascinating, and alarming, and wonder if they get too close to the subject to have a clear perspective. There's so much more there to tell. I also worry about them. Perhaps they are much more careful than they let on, but other, perhaps more experienced, paranormal experts warn amateurs about delving into the occult willy-nilly. They seem to go into rabbit holes, surrounded by friends on the couch, laptops churning away, and no one utters a word of caution to themselves or us as indoctrinated viewers.

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