Who Ya Gonna Call?
The second World War seems to be a popular setting for horror filmmakers and the latest one to utilise this is Eric Bress, who has returned to write and direct his sophomore film after a whopping 16 years. You may remember his previous film, the Ashton Kutcher-starring The Butterfly Effect with nostalgic fondness but Ghosts of War promises little for the returning director.
Ghosts of War follows a small group of soldiers in Nazi-occupied France in 1944. Led by Chris (Brenton Thwaites), the group is a smorgasbord of masculinity; Eugene (Skylar Astin) is the sensitive intellectual, as you can immediately tell because he wears glasses, while Butchie (Alan Ritchson) is large, muscular and happy to punch the Nazis into oblivion. Tappert (Kyle Gallner) is an excellent shot but dealing with past trauma and Kirk (Theo Rossi) has itchy feet. The group is assigned to protect a lavish mansion and as they arrive, the previous soldiers are in a hurry to leave. Our soldiers will soon find out why when bizarre things start happening in the dead of night.
For better or worse, Ghosts of War has heaps of potential. The cast is a promising mix of young talent, with Gallner especially compelling as the haunted Tappert and its classic haunted house theme is always entertaining. Bress doesn’t exactly reinvent the mould, but Ghosts of War works as a perfectly adequate thriller. At least, up until its last 20 minutes, during which Bress attempts to pull the rug out from underneath the audience’s feet but also puts his work up for some serious ridicule.
The cast, while individually strong, never quite reach the brotherhood a film like this sorely needs to work. Thwaites looks young and fragile against the other men, especially Ritchson who is bullish and rude here, but nothing is ever made of the dynamic within this unlikely group of men, forced to serve together in a war. This could have been an excellent opportunity to put the group’s differing approaches and personalities under the microscope, but Bress opts for cheap thrills and bizarre plot twists.
There’s plenty of violence, gore and scares for those who seek them but it all feels a little watered down. The plot rushes forward so fast there’s no time to enjoy any of the scary bits. When Bress finally reveals the cards up his sleeve, the result is more baffling that shocking. While the inevitable twist has some merits, it’s a shame to see the film boil down to something so crass and unimaginative. There’s clearly an attempt here to say something meaningful about the scars and heavy guilt the war can leave soldiers battling with, but unfortunately it gets lost under Bress’ muddled direction.
Despite all the negatives, I found Ghosts of War an entertaining watch, one that I am likely to revisit for its disposable narrative and the sheer fun of Gallner and Astin’s performances. Gallner, who used to excel in otherwise subpar horror films like The Haunting in Connecticut and A Nightmare on Elm Street brings his A-game here with a wonderfully weird performance which is balanced by Astin’s much quieter and subtle take on Eugene. Bress’ script also allows for these two to have a deeper bond and it almost touches on something affecting and genuine in its quieter moments thanks to the two actors’ chemistry.
Ghosts of War may not be great cinema or even a particularly good horror thriller, but it does offer plenty of entertainment value for the hungry horror fans with its cast and impressive production design. Both this and The Butterfly Effect deal with similar themes so fans of the writer-director’s first effort might find this equally interesting and be able to forgive the film’s obvious flaws.
Ghosts of War is available digitally July 17th.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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