Ghost House is a 2017 supernatural thriller/horror film that boasts being made on a small budget whilst having some rather notable names under its belt such as Mark Boone Junior (Memento and Batman Begins) and Scout Taylor-Compton (The Runaways and the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes).
With that out of the way, we are going to build a house in this review. How? The same way Iggy Pop did: brick by brick.
Budget horrors are where you go to get your fix in-between big budget releases. They are the bricks you stack neatly on top of a solid foundation (i.e. the classics). Some are made from superior materials whilst others are made from cheap stuff that miraculously holds up. Let's examine the rest of the building materials and follow the list…
Ghost House carries a simple plot: An American couple, Julie and Jim, is on holiday in Thailand, soaking up the local ambiance with their enthusiastic guide, Gogo. Upon hearing some spooky local folklore, the couple is intrigued when overly friendly British tourists, Robert and Billy, offer excitement by taking a trip out of town. You can see how this ends.
Eventually the newly-engaged couple find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere and something supernatural starts torturing Julie. What does it have to do with the strange little ornate houses they kept seeing everywhere? Jim does his most to find out what is harming his fiancÃ© whilst Julie writhes in agony for the majority of the film as she moves from location to location, trying to escape the horrific force they unwittingly unleashed.
That's where the story stops because the rest of the film slogs from set piece to set piece, and basically has to rely on the bricks stolen from other nicer, well-built houses to make itself seem sturdy. Ghost House rushes to show you everything in the first 30 minutes but then it realizes that there is still an hour left of showtime so it uses typical tropes to flesh out the story. The supernatural presence is not adequately explained at first, but you must be afraid...you have to be afraid. Why? Occasionally you forget that you are watching a horror film and the dreadful ghost lady drops into frame to remind you what you are watching and must be punished for daydreaming with a screen-full of scary grandma (the Phi Tai Hong — a vengeful spirit that died a violent death without the proper funerary rites).
There are sections and elements that could have been left out of the film altogether as their exclusion could have added to the atmosphere, and are shameless rip-offs of other franchises (i.e The Grudge and The Ring) – the counting down of days until the Phi Tai Hong will claim Julie's soul or the overused angry old woman ghost trope. Admittedly, Julie's hospital stay is unnerving as the staff are powerless to help and all she can do is flail about helplessly whilst strapped to a bed. The pace does pick up from this point but then it slows right back down until the finale manages a half-spirited show.
To nit-pick: there is a colourful plethora of ghosts in Thai culture, such as the one-legged vampiric jungle spirit; a spirit that haunts coconut trees; there is even a floating head spirit with an unnaturally long neck and dangling intestines. Now of all these ghosts they chose the most ˜vanilla' of the bunch and made a movie about it. The opportunity for a truly unique horror story cannot be more easily presented.
Ghost House does not suffer from lack of beautiful or stylish shots but from disjointed writing, tired tropes and the obvious theft of bricks from other houses. The actors gave it their respective efforts but they noticeably had defaults: Jim — determined and bewildered; Julie — confused and horrified; everyone else — I am a cardboard cut-out with/without secrets!. It's not that the film lacks enjoyable qualities but that there was little to holistically redeem what could have been an otherwise agreeable film with underused actors.
With that said, we must take some pride in that we have built a house. Many cannot see it but there is, in fact, an invisible out in front of the House in the title and I intend using this outhouse like I have this review. The film's tagline She will never let you go is more like an ominous warning: the ghost of this film will not let forget that you spent time watching it.
Is there a word yet to describe when the trailer is better than the film?