My notes on the horror film Ghost House, out now on digital platforms.
A Thai tradition is the erection of ‘ghost houses’ – somewhere between a bird-feeder and a doll’s house – so recently-departed spirits can live in them rather than haunt people’s dwellings, with all the inconveniences that brings. Though this is explained patiently to just-engaged young Americans Julie (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Jim (James Landry Hébert) by stereotype local motormouth driver-guide Fogo (Michael S. New), they still get suckered – by a couple of sinister Brits (Russell Geoffrey Banks, Richard Gray) – into tampering with one particularly ominous ghost house, wherupon Julie gets semi-possessed and frequently bothered by the identikit Asian spectre Watabe (Wenchu Yang), who crawls on the ceiling, looms hissingly, clutches with more hands than she ought to have and generally drives her potty.
The thrust of the storyline is Jim’s attempts to get the curse lifted without resorting to the unethical tactics that got Watabe shifted onto Julie, but it takes a while to get to this good stuff and there’s too much awkward signposting along the way … including a wildly silly set-up which has Jim dragged into a strip club while Julie is prevailed on to let her hair down so an ill-wisher can snaffle her scarf for use in curse-transference ritual and a trek out to a ghost house graveyard for a nasty bit of supernaturalism that still feels like a crass holiday prank. Late in the day, after Gogo has run out of exposition, we get welcome character actor Mark Boone Junior as seedy ex-pat Reno, who has more practical suggestions that allow for a half-way decent, noisy climax.
Written by Kevin O’Sullivan and Jason Chase Tyrrell from a story by director Rich Ragsdale and producer Kevin Ragsdale, this is among a trickle of relatively recent movies (The Other Side of the Door, The Forest, Grave Halloween) that draw on Asian mythology without actually being remakes of Asian horror films – like most of them, this defaults to having no-nothing Americans blunder through exotic holiday locales, with time-outs to glimpse some horrible poverty or sleazy sex business, and get on the wrong side of a local supernatural phenomenon. Given how the cycle trades in stereotypes, it’s perhaps amusing that the most outrageously offensive depiction is of a particular nationality is Banks’ nasty Brit, though none of the local players get much to work with. Taylor-Compton starred in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, so she might well be wandering the world looking for atonement by taking gigs like this – she’s appealing, and effectively menaced, but Hébert carries the film as a crass character – the actor is mildly typed as grinning, untrustworthy sorts – who has to find the strength not to take the easy way out.
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