★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Artful, well shot, nerve-wracking, and truly horrific.
Directed by Pascal Laugier.
From what I hear, Laugier’s much talked about Martyrs (2008) is a tough one to watch. I suspect it’s a bit too dark for my taste even though just about everything I’ve read about it said it was well done. I went into Incident In A Ghost Land (or, Ghostland, its original title) without knowing a thing about it — my preferred way to watch a movie I’m about to review — and holy smokes talk about dark. It’s a sneaky darkness, though. One that creeps up on you afterwards as you’re thinking about what you just watched.
The movie starts off with a mother [Mylène Farmer; Arthur and the Great Adventure (2009)] on a road trip with her two young daughters to move into their new house. Elizabeth [Emilia Jones; High-Rise (2015)] is the budding writer in the family. Her favorite author is H. P. Lovecraft and it shows as she reads her latest story to her mom as they drive. Vera [Taylor Hickson; Deadpool (2016)], Beth’s older sister, thinks pretty much everything is stupid and generally resents having to move. Eventually, the women make it to their new home and start hauling their stuff inside. Their work is interrupted by a brutal incident, but mom manages to save the day and then…
Beth wakes up.
It’s years later and Older Beth [Crystal Reed; TV’s Gotham (2017-2018)] may still be plagued by nightmares about what happened to her family when she was younger, but she’s built a nice life for herself. She’s now a successful horror novelist with a handsome husband [Adam Hurtig; Cult of Chucky (2017)] and a swanky apartment. The years haven’t been nearly as kind to Older Vera [Anastasia Phillips; Don’t Talk to Irene (2017)] who’s still living in that same house with their mother, but when Beth gets a panicked call from her sister she drops everything and goes back for a visit.
And that’s when things start gettin’ weird.
This is definitely a movie you want to see spoiler-free, so that’s all you’ll be getting from me plot-wise. On the technical side, the production values for Incident In A Ghost Land are top notch. Sound quality is great regardless of where the scenes are being filmed and the camera work is well done, but it’s Emilia Jones and Taylor Hickson as young Beth and Vera that really make the film stand out. They both poured their hearts and souls into this movie giving such powerful performances that some scenes are downright uncomfortable to watch. Taylor Hickson was actually badly injured during the filming of Incident In A Ghost Land and, judging by the recent projects listed in her IMDB profile, everyone here at The Scariest Things is glad she hasn’t let the injury slow her down. An energy like hers shouldn’t be kept off the silver screen too long.
Given all I’ve said about the film’s darkness and uncomfortable performances, it might be odd to call it a gateway film for folks dipping their toes in the genre, but I’m going to. It’s a gateway film. There. I said it. The gore is minimal, there’s about 3 seconds of nudity, and the director often chooses to do a lot with very little. When done well, something like disturbing sound effects behind a locked door can be worse than actually seeing the action take place. So, as long as you can handle whatever your imagination comes up with, you’ll be okay.