It's fair to say that Birmingham doesn't immediately spring to mind as being a hotbed of creative film-making talent or for being a highly prized location for British films. It's also fair to say that trying to successfully blend humour, horror and human drama is a difficult balancing act. Credit goes to writer/director Andrew Spencer then for his second feature (after 1999's similarly themed Dark Eyes), set and filmed in and around England's second city, for pulling off the aforementioned tightrope act with considerable aplomb. A low budget chiller, The Casebook of Eddie Brewer is by turns a character study of the titular figure (a metaphorically haunted paranormal investigator), straight up supernatural shocker and a slyly comic look at the production of television documentaries.
The central protagonist, played with convincing, engaging authenticity by Ian Brooker, is being trailed by a crew making a TV show, similar in fashion to Living TV's now defunct Most Haunted. Polite, downbeat and defensive, Eddie roams around his Birmingham environs investigating cases of suspected paranormal activity. An incident in the basement of a tumbledown council office leads Eddie and the TV crew into potentially exciting territory, Eddie through the possibility of proving (or disproving) the existence of otherworldly forces and the TV crew through their opportunity to capture it on camera for the viewing public.
Spencer's ostensibly simple premise becomes a highly engrossing tale of past tragedies, memory and belief shot through with moments of earthy comedy (mostly provided by sceptical locals), creepy images and genuine pathos. One of the failings of many chillers is a lack of three dimensional characters, a problem that leads to a lack of engagement, a crucial, grounding aspect when the narrative contains elements of the supernatural. One of the strongest pluses The Casebook of Eddie Brewer has going for it is it's depth of characterisation. Eddie, his harassed interviewer, a snooty celebrity medium and various other supporting players are all fully formed, recognisable characters. Another major pro is the less than glamorous locations used; nondescript houses, run down council properties and grey, rain-soaked streets forming a glumly realistic backdrop to the narrative's fantastical streak.
Spencer's intelligent use of images and audio, coupled with a story that unhurriedly unfolds, draws the viewer into both Eddie's life and the case under investigation in a fashion that makes its ambiguous ending unsettling rather than frustrating. Throw in some strategically placed make-em-jump moments and you have a movie that puts to shame many of the bigger budgeted, starrier chillers that have come our way in recent years.