“Every time my phone rings, and its Charleston, I’m afraid to pick it up.”
That’s the opening narration of the harrowing and true-crime documentary What Haunts Us, which premieres tonight on Starz. Filmmaker Paige Goldberg Tolmach tells the story of her high school in South Carolina, and the old classmates she keeps learning have died by suicide.
There was a sexual predator on the teaching staff at the school, and decades later, Tolmach is delving into the crimes that were committed by that person — and the guilt the survivors feel, including herself, about not doing more to stop it at the time.
In this clip from the film, which uses animation to depict some of the past events, Tolmach recalls learning from a classmate that Coach Eddie Fischer was preying on him.
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Even though the perpetrator was eventually exposed, the aftereffects continue. From that school’s class of ’79, there have been six suicides out of 49 boys — roughly a tenth of them.
“My hometown is haunting me …” Tolmach says in the opening sequence of the film. “With each death, I’m 16 again, back in high school, trying to figure it all out.”
In the era of #MeToo, Tolmach’s film explores not just the problem of abuse, but the issue of how often it occurs in relatively plain sight, and how fear or normalization leads those who suspect the truth to remain silent.
Tolmach is a first-time filmmaker and is the wife of producer Matt Tolmach (best known for The Amazing Spider-Man and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.) He helped produce the documentary along with fellow powerhouse producers Frank Marshall (Jurassic World, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Seabiscuit) and Regina K. Scully (executive producer of The Departure and City of Joy.)
What Haunts Us is also in limited release theatrically and can be seen Monday night on Starz at 9 p.m. ET.