When comedians Barry Dodds and Ian Boldsworth began The Parapod in 2015, there was no way they could have predicted that their niche podcast would become a multi-award-winning cult success. It’s a move that’s now taken the pair to 3.5 million downloads, sold-out live shows and, finally, to this – a feature-length film four years in the making. The Parapod Movie stars Dodds, a wide-eyed believer in the paranormal, and Ian, a wily sceptic, as they travel the UK in a souped-up hearse investigating far-fetched claims of the supernatural.
The two comedians find themselves in a variety of unlikely situations, from camping overnight in ‘haunted’ woods to Barry being forced to deliver an impromptu speech to a conference of non-believers. The road trip format is a great showcase of the dynamic that made the podcast such a success, and it’s a joy to watch the energy of the podcast translating to screen so effectively. Throughout the film, Dodds’ winning naivety and clear passion for his beloved hobby rub up against Boldsworth’s steely scepticism and overwhelming desire to wind his friend up as much as possible.
And wind up Dodds he certainly does. The pranks that Ian comes up with are inventive and hilarious. While they never veer into the territory of being mean or cruel, we do begin to see a frisson of genuine tension between the two when the pressure mounts. The film doesn’t stray too far from its comic tone, and never becomes overwhelmed by the morbidity of its subject matter. However, a good counterpoint is offered in these moments of honesty and exhaustion,, which are only natural on a project that took so many years to create. It’s also funny to see Ian occasionally on the back foot, most notably in an amusing exchange with a ‘psychic’, who more or less insults him to his face under the guise of hearing messages ‘from the other side’.
Entirely crowdfunded by listeners, The Parapod Movie has been a labour of love (and possibly some hate) for Boldsworth, who took on the bulk of the post-production work. Despite its budgetary limitations, it demonstrates a practiced eye for visual storytelling. The ghost-hunting sequences are appropriately claustrophobic, and there are a few shots that are really genuinely memorable and striking. For example, as the story shifts into a reflective tone, there are some truly breathtaking shots of snowbound landscapes that are expertly placed to signpost the film’s shift into more introspective terrain. It’s a real technical achievement for Boldsworth, who cheerfully admits that the production has “taken years off his life”.
In fact, despite his avowed scepticism, Boldsworth also demonstrates a knack for the uncanny, and there are a few sequences that verge on found footage horror. These moments are certainly more unsettling than anything Derek Acorah (“friend”) ever conjured up.
It won’t surprise you to learn that this comedy feature doesn’t put the final nail in the coffin on the question of the undead. However, while debates over the supernatural will no doubt continue to rage, The Parapod Movie showcases an engaging and lively friendship between two unlikely compatriots. Like the podcast that spawned it, it is first and foremost time spent in good company. The film is unafraid to venture into topics that can be unsettling, or even at times philosophical, but it maintains a warmth and charisma throughout that make it a real pleasure to watch.
The Parapod Movie is in select cinemas now, and will be available digitally on September 27th 2021.