Ghostlight (2013) *1/2
D: Jeff Ferrell
C: Brian Sutherland, Lisa Coronado, Eden Campbell, Dennis Kleinsmith, Russell Hodgkinson, Ramona Freeborn, Jeff Ferrell
Plot Synopsis: A father / husband is challenged to spend one night, alone, in a haunted theater on the 80th anniversary of a murder / suicide that occurred within its walls. His prize: $50,000.
REVIEW: Going off the premise, I thought I was in store for something along the lines of the TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark? For those unaware of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the series was about a group kids, who would gather around a campfire, to tell each other scary stories. The stories, being told, would often hearken back to the good ol' days of horror, where it was more about a sense of wonder & amazement and more about atmosphere vs gory killings.
So with that said, there were plenty of elements from Ghostlight that I could see in Are You Afraid of the Dark?. For one, the premise lends itself to those old ghost stories that you used to tell around the campfire. Two, the film's principal location is one of those majestic, old school theaters that your grandparents or even parents would talk about, but you don't see too often nowadays. And finally, the premise taps into something that would scare just about anyone; being alone, in an unfamiliar setting, in the middle of the night.
And yet, Ghostlight never taps into any of those elements. Maybe the intent to tell an old fashion ghost story was there, but it gets lost in jumbled execution. There's so much wrong, that I could make a list ...and I think I will. So let's go.
(1.) The film's main character isn't so much a character, but a prop to observe spooky going-ons and to yell "who's there". There's some introductory scenes, that give us a little back story into the character, but once the character steps into the theater, to spend the night, he's more of a catalyst to showcase the film's spooky occurrences, then an actual participant in the film.
(2.) The film declares itself too early on. In a prolonged sequence, the owner of the theater, Mr. Black, give's the main character an extended tour of the theater. Mr. Black talks about how one room is always locked and that no one should go in there. He also talks about there being mannequins. And during all of this, he recounts the theater's tragic history involving a long triangle that resulted in the death of three people exactly 80 years ago.
From all of this information: I wonder if a character named Mr. Black is going to figure back into the story? I wonder if the main character is eventually going to find himself in this room that's locked up? I wonder if there is going to be a scene in which one of the mannequins is mistaken for a person? And lastly, I wonder if this love triangle is going to repeat itself, especially considering that it's the anniversary date of said tragedy? I think you & I both know the answers to all of these various questions.
(3.) The film fails to tap into the spookiness of the film's main setting. The main character runs around, screams and shouts, opens doors, goes up and down various stairs and hallways, pokes and prods, etc. The main character is always busy doing something.
In all actuality, what the film should have done, is keep the main character in a limited number of locations, for extended periods of time. That way, the film would have allowed us, as an audience, to become a part of this theater, to allow us to soak in the atmosphere of the building, to gain a sense of how darkness can conceal danger, to allow time for a feeling of dread to creep into the proceedings, etc. The film botches all of this by rushing things.
(4.) Eventually, at one point, ghosts start to appear, but were the appearances of these ghosts truly necessary? After all, you have to consider, that this film was made on a budget and these ghosts are supposed to be representative of the 1930's. Are they truly going to look like something transported from the 30's into modern times? I think a more ambiguous approach would have been far more effective. After all, when it comes to haunted house films (or haunted theater films in this case), it isn't what you see, it's what you don't.
(5.) The score, employed here, completely overwhelms the film. I'm sure whoever put it together is happy with the final product as they tried to pull out all the stops, but it doesn't fit in here. When it comes to making a simple little ghost story, all you need is a minimalist score to help accentuate the suspense.
(6.) The ending. My goodness, the ending! It's one of those endings that I shook my head in disbelief, but not in a good way. The film tries to have it both ways with an ending that is both tragic and happy. The film needed to commit to one or the other. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
Now from this list I made, you're probably thinking I didn't like anything about the film, but that isn't true. In a sub-plot, a young girl figures into the proceedings. Turns out, this girl is a ghost who isn't aware that she's dead. The ghost is played by Eden Campbell, who shares scenes opposite of Lisa Coronado, who plays her mother. During these scenes, I could feel some of the film's heart shining through. I could relate to the idea of wanting to treasure every last moment that you have left with someone, that you dearly love, even though your heart's breaking inside.
What makes these scenes effective, is that they keep it simple and straight forward. And that get's me to my overall dilemma with Ghostlight. Instead of allowing this simple little ghost story to shine, writer / director Jeff Ferrell clutters it up. The score, the plotting, the script that over explains everything, the ghost characters that haunt the theater, the film shifting from one scene to another hurriedly, etc. -- it's all too much! And the blame for all of this falls squarely on writer / director Jeff Ferrell, because he fails to trust in his very own material. [Not Rated] 90 mins.
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