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Ghostland Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

This French/Canadian horror production breathes fresh air into the genre, using a combination of different horror styles. It is not for the faint of heart, however!

Genre: Drama / Horror / Thriller

Director: Pascal Laugier

Cast: Emilia Jones, Crystal Reed, Mylène Farmer, Taylor Hickson, Anastasia Phillips, Kevin Power, Rob Archer, Adam Hurting & Paul Titley.

Run Time: 91 min.

US Release: 22 June 2018

UK Release: N/A

German Release: 05 April 2018

Before delving into my analysis of this horror-thriller, I would like to inform my readers that this is the first of a string of horror reviews, which are all to be released this month in theatres. Ghostland, or as it is known through its working title: Incident in a Ghostland, has been on my radar ever since I saw the first trailer early this year, which promised a fright fest of high quality. Written and directed by French director Pascal Laugier, who is also known for House of Voices, Martyrs and The Tall Man, this horror drama offers a fresh take on the horror genre but contains a couple of flaws.

Pauline (Farmer), single mother of the two young teenage girls Elizabeth (Jones) and Vera (Hickson), inherits the backcountry house of her deceased aunt. During their first night there, two murderous intruders confront them and Pauline needs to fight for her daughters’ life. Sixteen years later; Beth (Reed) is a famous horror novelist, still struggling with the events that happened that night. When she obtains a disturbing call, she reunites with her sister and mother at their old home but that is when strange things start to happen.

Laugier created an unconventional narrative, successfully combining the genres of home-invasion thriller, splatter-horror and psychological drama. It begins strong, with a short introduction of the characters, then jumps straight into action with a terrifying home invasion sequence, just to mellow down shortly after to explore the psyche of victimised persons. From there on it jumps back into splatter mode. Though enough bread crumbs were left for the viewers to solve some of the clues by themselves, the big twist did come as an unexpected but positive surprise. The largest positive this movie has to offer, however, is the constant sense of dread that builds up at the beginning and never dials down.

Ghostland contains structural flaws, however. An unexpected fact as the story is pretty straightforward but the way it is unfolded makes it feel more crammed than it actually is. Further disappointment is that it leaves the psychological aspect it started to explore, to focus on the display of brute and physical torture, which is a little too graphic and disturbing at times. Last but not least, it incorporates quite a few ‘fake’ jump scares, especially during the beginning, which is unnecessary and distracts from the plot.

Emilia Jones plays young Elizabeth, while Crystal Reed portrays the grown-up version of the character. She is the leading role and personality-wise a complete opposite to her sister Vera, seemingly able to cope better with the horrific events of that night and utilised the trauma to become a successful horror writer. Reed gives an all right performance but it is Emilia Jones who really shines as the younger version of Beth, giving a believable and shocking performance.

Mylène Farmer depicts Pauline, the French single mother of both girls. Farmer gives a good performance, even though some of the dialogue between her and Crystal Reed can be extremely cheesy and weird at times. Pauline herself is a strong independent woman, who would go to great lengths to secure the safety of her daughters. Her persona also harbours a secret, though, which is why I will leave it at that.

Taylor Hickson and Anastasia Phillips portray the character of young and adult Vera respectively. Vera is, contrary to Elizabeth, unable to cope with the events of that night, reliving her abuse over and over again. Phillips has very little screen time as the grown-up Vera, Hickson on the other hand, gives a good rendition of the teenaged girl.

The intruders are played by Kevin Power and Rob Archer. Both have little to no dialogue, yet it is their presence that serves as a threatening factor alone. Their personas are mostly hidden in the background, out of focus or in the shadows.

Just as with the narrative, the cinematography comes with a lot of positives but also imperfections that divert from the story and damp the overall experience. Examples are the use of shaky cam at times, or the clichéd defocusing of backgrounds to create false threats. That said, director of photography Danny Nowak did a great job for the largest part and delivered a crisp and clear horror-thriller. The low, or tilted angles used in some scenes enhance the sense of disorientation and desperation, while the lighting and use of shadows added to the tension and threatening atmosphere.

The costume and make-up designs are fantastic. The prosthetic masks look shockingly real and the make-up for the two intruders is disturbingly good. If there is anything wrong with that, it may be the fact that it looks a little too graphic at times - but that is just nitpicking.

Ghostland Poster

Verdict: Pascal Laugier’s newest horror film is very different from its genre brethren and tells an original story, combining Lovecraftian traits with a slasher style plot. Laugier delivers an effective shocker, though not without its fair share of problems. The story doesn’t take long at reaching horror mode; after a short character introduction, the family is put quickly through a terrible event, whose traumatic outcome lingers throughout the rest of the 81 minutes, never easing in tension. Though a simple tale, the form in which it is told can feel choppy and is at times difficult to follow and the jump scares, in the beginning, can distract from the movie. The actresses and actors are fine but it is Emila Jones who gives the most convincing portrayal. The dialogues, on the other hand, are flat and at times really awkward. The cinematography is mostly good, however, it also contains clichéd styles to mislead the viewers. In the end, Ghostland is an all right horror-thriller and deserves a 6.5 out of 10.

Did you see Ghostland? Are you a fan of Laugier’s work? Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought of this flick and Laugier’s other films.

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