A Spooky Agnostic Review of “The ParaPod – A Very British Ghost Hunt”

I am a “spooky agnostic”.

I don’t know whether or not there’s any kind of occult or supernatural forces out there. I typically default to a skeptical scientific standpoint.

That said, I would not sleep inside a ring of mushrooms on Midsummer’s Night. I’ve smudged my house with sage, and have been told that I do some pretty freaky tarot readings.

I don’t know that any of it is “occult”, or what it claims to be. Particularly when it comes to things like tarot, or smudging, and so on. It can be useful, even if it doesn’t “work” the way it proports to. A physical ritual of cleansing can have a powerful mental effect. A tarot reading may get you to consider a situation from a different angle, or let you make connections you would not have made by yourself.

But I’ll treat it with a decent amount of respect.

When I was a teenager, my pal Ray and I talked about becoming paranormal investigators as adults. We wanted to approach it with this kind of agnostic skepticism – not walking in gullibly wanting to believe, but also not with a goal to actively disprove things either. The kind of person who supported James Randi’s challenge, but also hoped that someone would actually manage to win.

So I was intrigued when I ran across The ParaPod – A Very British Ghost Hunt. Based off a podcast that ran for three seasons, it follows Ian Boldsworth (the skeptic) and Barry Dodds (the believer) as they travel to various locations looking for ghosts.

A believer in the paranormal takes a hardwired skeptic on a road trip of the UK’s most famous haunted locations in an attempt to convince him of the existence of ghosts. A journey of true discovery, shocks, emotion and hilarious conflict.

Amazon Blurb

I was hoping that these two were actually doing what Ray and I had dreamed of as kids.

Instead, I was reminded of why skeptics are so damn annoying.

Let’s be clear: There are plenty of charlatans out there who actively take advantage of people. Those people should absolutely be mocked mercilessly and debunked – much as John Oliver does in this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhMGcp9xIhY

That’s a different thing that telling your mate that you’re willing to investigate haunted places with him – and then proceed to be a complete and utter wanker throughout. Which is exactly what Ian Boldsworth does throughout the film.

Instead of actually participating – skeptically – with Dodds, Boldsworth continuously and actively mocks him, pranks him, and more. Boldsworth generally does everything possible to make Dodds – who seems to be serious throughout – look like a fool from the first minutes of the film until the last.

And in doing so, it’s neither useful as a skeptical investigation nor is it funny. He just comes across as a mean and angry wanker.

It’s like contrasting Ricky Gervais (who has since shown himself to be an asshat in multiple ways) and Patton Oswalt on religion. Gervais used to actively seek out random Twitter users saying anything religious, and then just mock and troll them. He sought out regular people – people Gervais had no connection to, people in pain and suffering through grief, and then made fun of them and did his best to pull the support of their faith system out from under them. It was just cruel, and after seeing him do that several times on Twitter, I unfollowed him and stopped being a fan of him or his comedy.

Patton, on the other hand, will also poke hard at religion – but in his shows. Where someone has sought it out. Even then, his point is far more understanding and empathetic (NSFW audio with this video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AjyopaiKqM

Boldsworth is clearly the kind of skeptic that Gervais is. His constant harassment of his co-host [1] just isn’t funny and doesn’t add anything to the investigation the two are conducting. It’s just holier-than-thou [2] smug pretentious bullying. You can see good examples of Boldsworth being a complete jerk just in the movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLVGK0OovgQ

Boldsworth defends his actions at one point by saying that if he did nothing, there would be no “content”. That it would just be boring.

And he is wrong.

Because both Boldsworth and Dodds do have a great buddy chemistry. I would have really enjoyed seeing them genuinely have a go at things, and then nothing happening, and then figuring out explanations for the stories around these haunted places, [3]

There is a great sequence where Boldsworth – in a moment of blunt kindness – acknowledges a strange experience Dodds has, and proceeds to break down how Dodds really did have that experience… but how that experience is not evidence of the paranormal. At another point, Boldsworth acknowledges that he’s getting creeped out – but also notes how the pair are feeding off each other’s anxiety over nothing.

If it had been a movie all like that, if Boldsworth had spent the time being that guy, this would be a very different review.

Instead, The ParaPod – at Boldsworth’s (literal) direction tries to be scary and fails. It tries to be a skeptical investigation, and his own shenanigans cause it to fail on that front. And it tries to be a comedy, but it comes across as just Boldsworth being mean.

And it leaves this spooky agnostic disappointed that this movie was not what it could have been.

The ParaPod is available on multiple streaming platforms depending on your region; you can find out which ones in your area using JustWatch: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-parapod-a-very-british-ghost-hunt

Featured image from the promotional materials for the film; used here for review purposes.

[1] Yes, I am aware that it might all be scripted. But that almost makes it worse.
[2] The irony is not lost on me.
[3] The Canadian show Paranormal Home Inspector did this – it is also almost impossible to find streaming.

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