Synopsis: Five battle-hardened American soldiers assigned to hold a French Chateau near the end of World War II. However, they encounter a supernatural enemy far more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Kyle Gallner, Theo Rossi, Alan Ritchson, Skylar Astin, Matthew Reese
Director: Eric Bress
Running Length: 94 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Looking at the movie releases over the years you begin to see the cycles of genre pics. There was a time when war films were all the rage, then it was westerns, then horror films, then mysteries/noirs, then war films, then slasher films, then drama/art house films, then war films, then gross-out comedies, then war films, then horror films…are you spotting the pattern? If there’s two genres that never seem to miss their cycle it’s war and horror and since war is so often equated with real-life horror it’s not totally an unexpected correlation.
It makes sense, then to see a movie like Ghosts of War emerge onto the spooky mist of streaming entertainment. While I know it’s not the first movie to combine elements of horror into the mix of wartime, it’s the most recent attempt to add an extra dose of scares to what was already a horrific period of history. The resulting film has its admirable moments but hinges on a disappointing late-breaking game changer, turning what had been an atmospheric ghost tale that thrived in its simplicity into something decidedly more complex and far less interesting.
In the midst of World War II, American soldiers Chirs (Brenton Thwaites, Oculus), Tappert (Kyle Gallner, The Finest Hours), Kirk (Theo Rossi, Cloverfield), Butchie (Alan Ritchson, The Wedding Ringer), and Eugene (Skylar Astin, Pitch Perfect) are stationed far into the French countryside and soon cut off from their command. Keeping watching over an expansive mansion previously used by Nazi commanders until they are relieved from duty, they aren’t in their dwelling one night before strange things begin to take place. Visions of the dead, Morse code warnings, near miss accidents, and black magic calling cards begin to form a picture of what happened in the chateau before they arrived.
As the days move ahead the history of the house and its former owners comes into greater focus, with a found diary filling in the terrifying gaps of the story the bumps in the night are unable to tell. Just when you think you’ve figured out where writer/director Eric Bress is taking you, he pulls the dusty rug out from under to reveal a twist that will either elevate the movie in your mind or sink it without reprieve. Unfortunately for me (and the movie), it was a step I couldn’t take with the filmmakers and the final ten minutes faltered when they should have frightened.
Not to say it was smooth sailing until that point either. Before the men get to the chateau, the film takes a bit to get going and we have to slog through our introductions that Bress makes feel heavy handed. Even more than that, Bress seems intent to make the opening act particularly gruesome and unpleasant with off-putting violence. Then there’s the case of a character that goes missing for a long stretch with no explanation. I actually went back and watched a full twenty minutes of the movie again to make sure I didn’t miss a rationale and found none. It’s these little things that make big impacts on the storytelling as a whole.
In the twist, Bress (who hasn’t directed a movie since 2004’s The Butterfly Effect) has something of interest but I just didn’t care for how it played into the storyline (not to mention the acting truly didn’t support this section) and that’s too bad because Ghosts of War isn’t a total wash. There’s abut 45 minutes where the movie achieves a pleasant pace, blending decent scares (mostly of the jump variety) during the mystery solving by the soldiers. Recommended as one of the more sturdy films of its kind, even if it starts of shaky and totally collapses at the end.