Shadow

Shannon Alexander Tackles a Real-Life Case of Paranormal Activity in It’s Coming – Hot Docs 2023

The horror documentary It's Coming had its world premiere as part of the Nightvision program as part of the 2023 Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival. Shot, directed, produced, and edited by Shannon Alexander, the film follows Ashley Roland and her kids experiencing some paranormal activity in their Brooklyn apartment. Speaking on the phone with Shannon Alexander following It's Comingโ€˜s world premiere, he explains that the film began as a documentary about sleep paralysis, a topic previously covered in Rodney Ascher's Hot Docs 2015 selection The Nightmare. โ€œI didn't necessarily set out to make a film about it, but I was just doing some research, perhaps looking into adapting something for a narrative,โ€ says Alexander. โ€œI met Ashley, who was suffering from sleep paralysis and had so for most of her life. And we met and spoke about that. When I met her, I was randomly introduced to her children that day at her apartment. And that's when these kids started to talk about these horrific experiences and encounters they had been undergoing. And I realized that's where this story, this film can happen, this documentary, surrounding this family afflicted by these entities.โ€

Javier Vega in It's Coming
Javier Vega, the son of primary subject Ashley Roland, in It's Coming

As documentaries centred around paranormal activity are not shared outside of paranormal reality TV shows or YouTubers such as Lainey and Ben, Shannon Alexander was committed to producing It's Coming with as open a mind as possible. โ€œI believed them from the get-go,โ€ says Alexander. โ€œI could just sense that they were telling the truth, especially the children; it's difficult for children to lie in such a sophisticated manner repeatedly. So, I took everything they said. I didn't see a lot of the phenomenon myself, like the shadows. I mean, I heard everything with the apps I used, but a lot of what I saw was after the fact when I was editing the footage. When I was reviewing the footage, I would see the weirdness on the screen in the edit suite, which confirmed what they were saying.โ€

Ashley Roland and her kids in It's Coming
Ashley Roland and her kids in It's Coming

In a follow-up about the editing, Alexander admits that some manipulation of the footage was done to emphasize some of the supposedly paranormal events caught on camera. โ€œThings happened and flashed so quickly that I still wanted the viewer to see what occurred. So I had to replay it and slow things down two or three times so people would acknowledge it and see that something was there.โ€ One of the events caught on camera is a freaky moment of a boom mic flying toward Ashley in the middle of an interview, which Shannon Alexander can't explain. โ€œJust completely unexpected,โ€ says Alexander. โ€œWe were just having a regular conversation about what happened the previous night with the fire brigade entering the house, and it came out of nowhere. There were no windows open. The microphone was on a proper stand; it was secured. There was no gust of wind. As I said, everything was indoors and just out of nowhere when she spoke about her children and this energy because, as we saw, it just started towards her.โ€

Demonologists Chris and Harmony Deflorio in It's Coming
Demonologists Chris and Harmony DeFlorio in It's Coming

In what is arguably the climax of Itโ€˜s Coming, New York City demonologist Chris DeFlorio and his wife Harmony are called in to perform an exorcism on Ashley Roland's home. Chris DeFlorio is a retired NYPD officer who became a real-life ghostbuster since he supposedly came face-to-face with the devil while teaching at his African church. During the exorcism, Chris DeFlorio uses an SLS camera, which seems to support the paranormal visions Ashley has been seeing. โ€œThe shadows and everything were backed up with the SLS camera and Ashley's visions that she was claiming that she was seeing at the same time,โ€ says Alexander. โ€œSo we saw it from three different perspectives in the living room at that point. So a lot of these things were converging and built up to be what I thought was the truth at that time, at that moment as well. It was very intense.โ€

Ashley Roland in It's Coming
Ashley Roland in It's Coming

I ended my discussion with Shannon Alexander by asking how he would respond to the inevitable criticism It's Coming may receive from paranormal skeptics accusing the experiences of Ashley Roland and her family of being a hoax. โ€œI understand that it can be made up, but then you have to acknowledge that you've got one hell of a performative family,โ€ says Alexander about the validity of the film's events. โ€œAt that level, [it's a] piece of entertainment if you believe it's all fake. And it's extremely difficult to find such incredible actors from one family, and they are a real family from Brooklyn. And everything that was captured was backed up by them, by their testimony.โ€

Javier Vega in It's Coming
Javier Vega in It's Coming

Indeed, It's Coming is a documentary heavily open to interpretation. According to Shannon Alexander, no current distribution plans exist for It's Coming apart from its Hot Docs world premiere. However, if you come across the film in the future, you will surely be in for a creepy time.

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