Somewhere in the malevolent milieu of Pascal Laugier’s new film, Incident in a Ghostland is a good story that explores the ideas of grief and trauma and how we deal with those issues. But I couldn’t get past its meanness and cold-heartedness. There is so much to admire here, but it’s hidden behind a violent streak that seems unnecessary.
A mother, Pauline, (Mylene Farmer) and her two daughters, Beth and Vera (Emilia Jones and Taylor Hickson) inherit an old farmhouse in the middle of the country. The night they move in they have unwanted guests. In fact, the intruders show up as they’re moving in. There is some very good filmmaking going on during this sequence. Laugier moves his camera with equal measures of agility and esotericism. Showing the audience only what they need to see while hinting at the nefarious entities that are about to enter.
The family is then attacked and this is where the movie kicks into gear. Some of these scenes will be hard to watch, but it’s hard to deny just how powerful the scenes are. The mother fights back, killing one of the assailants and suddenly the movie jumps forward in time.
Beth is now a successful Horror writer whose newest book is inspired by the events we just witnessed. One night she receives a phone call from her sister who is in a frantic rage. Vera has been unsuccessful in her attempts to move on from the attack. She still lives at home with Pauline, who takes care of her on a full-time basis. Beth realizes she hasn’t been home for a very long time and decides to visit Vera.
This is where the movie gets a little twisty. And while I’m not fully on board with where the movie goes, I have to admit, it works perfectly within the context of what the filmmakers are hammering home.
“It’s going to happen tonight.”
Since I can’t talk about the rest of the film’s plot, we can discuss the film’s aesthetics and themes. The production design here is outstanding. This is one hell of a creepy house. It’s old and it’s worn. Heads of dead animals adorn the walls along with torn up wallpaper. At times the house seems like a maze, with its twisty hallways and many levels and rooms.
The performances are terrific across the board. Each set of girls in both eras bring their A-game, especially the younger girls, who are the standouts of the movie.
Incident in a Ghostland ultimately is about grief and tragedy and how we deal with it. Some people will sink into a hole so big that there isn’t a way out and it ends up consuming them. Others will take what they experienced and use it to power them. The ying and the yang of that are both present here. I loved how the movie portrayed this idea.
My issues come with how ugly and mean the movie is to its characters. I’ve said before in other articles, I don’t have a problem with excessive or ultra-violence if it’s earned or stylized to a point of parody. But here it just comes off as lazy. And yes, I know one of the director’s previous films was the original Martyrs, which is one of the most violent horror movies ever made. But that movie has a certain logic and energy to it that warrants the violence in it. It’s just too bad that Laugier didn’t realize that here.
Incident in a Ghostland is streaming now on Shudder.
Overall Score 2/5
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