Haunting Melissa is the first app I know of that is a serialized story. Directed by Neal Edelstein (producer, The Ring) and written by Andrew Klavan (producer, Don’t Stay a Word), Haunting Melissa is a found-footage horror story.
The story is about Melissa (Kassia Warshawski), who is dealing with the recent death of her mother, and her struggle to come to terms with the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. A mysterious blurred-out figure is the person who has found footage to tell the real story behind Melissa’s actions; the figure wants to show us why Melissa did what she did (an act we don’t know about in the beginning). Melissa’s mother, Katherine Rosemary Strogue, “went crazy” and locked herself in a bedroom, living the final months of her life in near isolation. Melissa thinks that her mother wants to tell her something from beyond the grave because of odd occurrences around the house, but many in her life think she is overwhelmed by grief and getting the heebie-jeebies from being alone in a large farmhouse for long stretches of time.
Since the story is from Melissa’s point of view, we see the camera for her computer come suddenly on, the doors creaking open or slamming shut, the pale figure garbed in black standing across the street, popping into TV shows and being where Melissa was after Melissa moves in a chair and her bed. We hear the strange noises in the night, the footsteps of someone outside Melissa’s bedroom when we know her father isn’t home, and the strange voice on recordings. We know what Melissa is going through, and we feel her frustration as the people closest to her really don’t believe what is happening.
The sources for the material include security footage from Mike Cole’s hardware store, Melissa’s camera for her computer, taped sessions with Melissa’s therapist, and Melissa’s own recordings. Her therapist wants Melissa to keep a journal, so she decides to do a video diary. Messages on answering machines, IMs between Melissa and her friends, video chats with friends, and internet searches are also storytelling devices.
Haunting Melissa has eleven chapters, but you can’t marathon the story. Each chapter is about 10 to 20 minutes long, and the chapters are released in stages, making Haunting Melissa feel more like a TV show or miniseries instead of a theatrical film. You have to wait three to four days between chapters, so you have to realize others are ahead of you, so if you visit forums, you could encounter spoilers.
The story is a slow burn. Many elements of most ghost stories are present: crosses on the walls, creaking floor boards, slamming doors, noises, a wispy dark figure, and jump scares. Since Haunting Melissa is found footage, some of the shots are wide and others shaky, but the inclusion of modern methods of communication breaks up what could have been just hours of Melissa talking into a camera. A layer of creepiness is added when her computer’s camera comes on in the middle of the night and we watch her sleep; sometimes something else happens, but just watching her sleep forces us to be voyeurs, a violation of her space and privacy that the dark forces are doing to Melissa as well.
The storytelling method isn’t revolutionary, but its delivery method is. Relying on the stability of a separate app is not necessary. No theater, no TV, no YouTube, and no Netflix are needed – the story is delivered straight to your iDevice. Many people have iDevices, so being able to directly send the story straight to an audience could open this market to other storytellers; without the need of another app, you can watch Haunting Melissa with just your iDevice and an internet connection to download the next installment.
Haunting Melissa is a good, traditional ghost story with decent acting and a story that entices you to check often for the next installment. For the bulk of the story, the mystery of what happened to her mother and why Melissa is a target is the allure of Haunting Melissa, but the scares do get more intense as the story progresses.
Haunting Melissa is made by Hooked Digital Media, is rated 12+, and is optimized for iOS 6.0 or later. The first chapter is free. Standard definition episodes are $0.99 each or $6.99 for a season pass; high definition episodes are $1.99 each or $14.99 for a season pass.