If Ghost House had been released ten years ago, perhaps it wouldn’t feel as derivative and unoriginal as it seems now, with familiar themes of supernatural possession, tried and tested horror clichés coming out of the whazoo and jump scares that you can sniff a mile off. There is a sense that director Rich Ragsdale wanted to embellish the eerie locations set within Thailand, along with folktales of the country, and to begin with, he accomplishes this successfully. Visually, Ghost House has decent cinematography, making good use of its setting and one feels that the team behind the movie were attempting to go for the aesthetic imagery of Only God Forgives. Unfortunately for me, it came across that Thai people were used in ways that rely on cultural stereotypes, a blemish that left a pervading sense of unease. But not in a horror-movie type of way.
Two American tourists, Jim (James Landry Hebert) and Julie (Scout Taylor Compton) arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport, and they seem like your typical, ignorant and clueless tourists. Julie wants to take pictures of everything; Jim wants to enjoy the romantic getaway and bone his girlfriend and every opportunity. As soon as they land though, they’re met by Gogo (Thai-Canadian Michael S. New), a shuttle driver and self-styled tourist guide. He takes them sight-seeing and Julie photographs her first ‘Spirit House,’ a kind of domain for demons – however when they get to their hotel they’re invited out by a couple of Brits, Rob (Russell Geoffrey Banks) and Bill (Rich Lee Gray), to celebrate their recent engagement.
British people in American-made movies? I hear you cry. That can only mean one thing! Yes, once again in atypical Hollywood fashion, the British tourists are the villains of the piece here, as their plan to take them out on a night out and experience the ‘real’ Thailand is simply a ruse to persuade the dim-witted Americans to drive upcountry with them to visit an abandoned Buddhist spirit house graveyard located in a gloomy forest. The contemptible British scoundrel Rob badgers Julie into removing a miniature stone figure from one of the cemetery’s ghost houses, and then promptly runs away like a child that’s left a flaming poo-bag outside a house owned by a crazy woman with seven cats. It’s here where the ultimately unsurprising excursion into the supernatural begins, when a horrific female demon materialises atop the spirit house and leaves Julie in an almost catatonic state.
The film seemed to be more interested in psychological terror up to his point and there was an unnerving atmosphere bubbling under the surface, but past this point the movie seemed to lose something…one of the weakest elements of Ghost House is that it seemed to have little to no ideas of its own. The plot seems to be taken almost exactly from Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, with only frivolous details being changed. Jim calls GoGo for help and they visit a Thai family that try to help the fevered Julie, and this is where another scare-jump occurs, but is ripped entirely from another horror film, (involving an eye and a throat that is taken directly from Insidious: Chapter 3.)
It becomes apparent that Julie has been possessed by a long-haired, gaunt ghoul reminiscent of oh-so-many Japanese-horror influenced demons such as The Ring and The Grudge and Gogo tells Jim that the spirit possessing Julie is a deceased Japanese woman who died under violent, fiery circumstances. There’s a three-day incubation period before the demon takes over her soul completely, so Jim will need to either lure other unsuspecting tourists to the forest and exchange Julie’s spirit for theirs, or find another way to exorcise the phantom from his fiancé.
This would likely amp up the tension of Ghost House, but unfortunately the characters here are incredibly generic and paper-thin. I understand that these are ‘normal’ people visiting a country they’ve never been to before, much like 98% of anyone who’s ever been to a foreign country for the first time, but they could have made Jim and Julie more…endearing to watch. Scout Taylor-Compton does her best as the damsel in distress, but the weak dialogue and lack of any discernible character development make her character dull and uninteresting. I was saddened to see that she was wasted onscreen by spending most of the film either in a bed, in a dull catatonic state or unconscious.You can also see James Landry Hébert trying his hardest to convey an assortment of emotions throughout the running time as Jim, but again the character has no interesting elements to make his performance stand out. The writers are the true villains of this piece (not the Brits) and should be blamed for this, as they have two brilliant actors that should have been given more to act with.
Ghost House is a perfunctory horror experience, but if you’re a fan of the 90’s style Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge, Dark Water and Pulse, you’ll likely find that this film has capitalised on a very successful formula without much deviation from the recipe and that will be all that is required. For others, there are many other eerie films to watch and be horrified by.
Ghost House is available on digital download from 28th MayREVIEW BY ANTHONY SELF
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