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REVIEW: Ghosts of War (2020)

Ghosts, a spooky house, and a World War II setting should make for an interesting mix of genres. On the surface, the premise of Ghosts of War might impress, but the end result is an incoherent and poorly executed mess that fails to deliver on almost every level.

Ghosts of War, a cross-genre film combining horror and combat, is set in occupied France during 1944. A team of five American soldiers are tasked with defending a mansion stronghold from potential German threat. The group are surprised by the urgency of the outgoing squad they have come to relieve and are rattled by their unusual behaviour. They set up for a long stay and encounter many horrors as the other inhabitants of the building crank up the haunt factor.

Following a long hiatus from directing since 2004’s The Butterfly Effect, Eric Bress seems to have lost touch with what made that movie a cult hit. There is little to warrant sticking with the movie through its 96 minutes, with only the last ten minutes bringing something a little different to the table and making it at least slightly worthwhile.  

As the ragtag quintet arrive at the huge mansion, the haunting is immediate and with no build up or expositional preamble – suspenseful, it is not. There is instead, all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and there are countless cheap, unearned attempts at jump scares. Doors are mysteriously opened and closed revealing someone (or something?) in the foreground, mirrors and surface reflections do the same, there are radios playing spooky warnings of impending doom, honestly the list goes on and it seems the movie has been made to be as generic as possible. None of the ‘scares’ feel remotely earned and the ‘horror’ is so surface level and basic it even goes so far as to cheapen the film’s lush production design. The location is well-shot, well-lit and appears lived in, especially for a relatively low-budget movie. The uniforms and props too all are solidly representative of the setting and era, but there is little else in this film to compliment.

The cast give passable performances, even though the acting does err on the wrong side of hammy. It is a shame, then, that the characters are unbelievably flat. There is the strong leader, the mysterious sniper, the beefcake, and the intellectual; it’s painfully generic and very difficult to warm to these caricatures. Also, STOP SHOOTING AT GHOSTS!

As the plot flits from trope to trope, it is almost comical when there is an attempt to build tension. There are no interesting or original entities haunting the soldiers, oh no. The ghosts are pale-faced J-horror cast offs, with too much eyeliner and wide CGI mouths. There are no signs of suspense and even though these jump scares aim for the same reactive soft spot as a haunted house ride, it fails miserably. There are no shocks, as every event is predictable and poorly executed. The shot-framing signposts everything, and all the film has to offer is a variation of what has been seen hundreds of times before in far better movies. It’s an awful waste of such a fresh concept with plenty of potential for an original spin.

Overlord, released in 2018 approached a similar premise with far greater originality and respect. Whilst not on the same page in terms of its haunted plot, it does have gore, setting and basic premise in common. The two could not be further apart in terms of quality though. As the action in Ghosts of War takes place, there are far too many jarring edits between scenes. Someone breaks their finger and there is a reaction shot, then it transitions into another scene so sharply, it feels almost as though there was a film slip on the projector, or someone skipped a frame on QuickTime. It is sloppy and amateur film-making at best and borderline offensive in some moments.

What makes the film’s follies even more frustrating is that there was so much promise. What fan of horror wouldn’t have their ears prick up when a ‘soldiers defend a haunted house’ tagline is thrown at them? It is such a missed opportunity that after a promising opening ten minutes, a constant downhill trajectory begins.

The old parental adage springs to mind when contemplating Ghosts of War: ‘I am not angry, I am just disappointed’. This movie had the potential to be something so much better. Neil Marshall managed the blending of similar genres perfectly in the brilliant and similarly low-budgeted horror Dog Soldiers (2002). Proof that it can be done. This, then, is a horror movie where less certainly would have been more in terms of scares and overall appeal. Leaving originality at the mansion door, Ghosts of War is a missed opportunity to splice genre effectively and unfortunately brings nothing original or enjoyable to the table. 

Rating: ★★


Directed by: Eric Bress

Written by: Eric Bress

Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Kyle Gallner

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