J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Pascal Laugier’s Incident in a Ghostland


H.P. Lovecraft was probably the most influential horror writer since Poe, but the Social Justice Warriors are determined to bully and ban his books out of the canon. Alas, Lovecraft lived a bitter life, plagued by ill health and poverty, so he had the chance to assemble a large cast of multi-ethnic friends reflective of your average Williamsburg coffeehouse. Off to the memory-hole with him. That is why Lovecraft is such a strange choice to be the literary hero of young Elizabeth Keller, especially since her movie isn’t very Lovecraftian. However, there is plenty of other content to distract the professionally offended throughout Pascal Laugier’s Incident in a Ghostland (trailer here), which releases today on VOD and in limited theatrical release.

Beth and Vera Keller’s mom Pauline has just inherited a creepy farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere from their late aunt. Best of all, it is packed to the rafters with spooky vintage dolls. In addition to the house’s bad vibes, we know from the newspaper Beth was skimming, a couple of maniacs have been butchering families in their homes. Vera the drama queen could at least take the minimal effort to close the front door, but she is too busy being put out by the move.

Of course, the “Fat Man” and the “Candy Truck Woman” will take advantage of the open invitation. They don’t just kill, they torture their victims to death. However, the three women manage to survive. The adult Keller will become the celebrated horror novelist she always wanted to be. Unfortunately, Vera never recovered from the emotional shock. She lives a state of permanent PTSD, constantly reliving the experience, as if it never stopped. That is why it is so baffling her mother never moved them out of the house. However, when Elizabeth is lured into making an emergency visit, we start to suspect there is something more ominous to Vera’s condition than her sister previously realized.

Ghostland has a twist at the midway point that is a serious game-changer, but it is also a major downer. The violence, while not as intense as that seen in Laugier’s notorious Martyrs, will also put off many viewers, which is fair enough. However, many of our more kneejerk colleagues feel duty-bound to castigate the film for its alleged “transphobia.” You see, Candy Truck Woman is actually a dude, but that is hardly intended as any kind of social commentary. It is just part of the horror movie tradition of taking a perceived threat and revealing it to be even more dangerous than viewers had assumed.

Frankly, the only thing about Ghostland worth objecting to is its dubious commitment to on-set safety. According to news reports, Taylor Hickson was badly cut up in a scene involving real glass, which is unforgivable in any post-Midnight Rider production. It is a shame, because the two sets of actresses playing teen and adult Beth and Vera—Emilia Jones and Crystal Reed as Beth and Hickson and Anastasia Phillips as Vera—are remarkably compatible and ferociously committed.

Regardless, there is no denying this is one creepy unsafe space. All the sinister dolls and eerie bric-a-brac represents a triumph of production and set design. In fact, this film would actually be scarier if Laugier reined in the violence a bit and cranked up the anticipation instead. There are moments in Ghostland that really get under your skin, but the film’s on-screen violence and real-life misfortune are real buzz-kills. Only recommended for aspiring set decorators and prop designers, Incident in a Ghostland hits VOD platforms and select theaters today (6/22).

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