Synopsis: In post-Civil War Arkansas, a young doctor is mysteriously summoned to a remote town in the Ozarks only to discover that the utopian paradise is filled with secrets and surrounded by a menacing, supernatural presence.
Stars: Thomas Hobson, Phil Morris, Tara Perry, Tim Blake Nelson, Angela Bettis, David Arquette
Director: Matt Glass & Jordan Wayne Long
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review: I’ve been through enough road trips across these glorious United States to wind up at some national monument or weird attraction that will always share one common thing. The “short introductory video.” You all know exactly what video I’m talking about. It’s the inevitable film, ranging anywhere from five (if you’re lucky) to thirty (always if you’re running late for somewhere else) that bars your way from moving forward into the main event you’ve already paid good money to see. Often produced before the tour guide was born, these are mini-masterpieces of balmy production quality, ripe acting, and directly stated dialogue that has precious little time for any subtext. When visiting Mt. Rushmore, the rickety film that greets you has surveyors arriving at the site, pointing up, and exclaiming, “We’ll build it…THERE!” Subtle.
Memories of summers spent on vacations with my family seeing the country were stirred by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long’s new film Ghosts of the Ozarks. That’s mainly because the look and feel of the film comes off like a lengthier version of one of these educational movies that get replayed every twenty minutes on a loop at the base of natural forming cave systems from California to Maine. Improperly being marketed as a horror/thriller but containing little of either element in its overindulgent runtime, it takes forever to get going and, even then, only sparks to life in small bursts of energy. This keeps one thankful for those players who manage to make something out of the screenplay from Long and third-billed Tara Perry.
Summoned by his uncle to the fledgling but remote town of Norfolk deep in the heart of the Ozarks, James (Thomas Hobson) hasn’t even made it to the outskirts before he encounters an unfriendly presence. A no-goodnik makes a play for his supplies but is usurped by the red plumes of smoke we come to learn signal the presence of dangerous predators lurking in the woods surrounding the walled compound. When he does make it town, he finds a simple community working on getting off the ground and putting aside any racial differences (James and his uncle are both Black) to be unified. The longer he stays in town and learns their customs, the more James realizes that not all is what it seems, and the lies that have been covered up as truths are coming back to haunt them all.
Had the film found more focus, I think the filmmakers behind Ghosts of the Ozarks might have capitalized better on the resources they had at their disposal. While it has an obvious digital look that can’t be avoided due to its high-definition rendering, the sets and costumes speak to a production design with enough creative energy to bring the viewer capably back to this period. The performances aren’t too bad, either. Though he’s laboring under a script that makes him far more inert than I think his character would have been, Hobson uses his arc to create an actual person gradually uncovering sad truths about those close to him. He and Phil Morris (Jingle All the Way) share several nice scenes, especially near the end when the action finally starts matching the advertising. Being a co-writer often results in reserving the extra juicy moments for yourself. Still, Perry is generous in doling out the emotional ups and downs, making room for more prominent names like Tim Blake Nelson (Nightmare Alley), Angela Bettis (Bless the Child), and even a typically weird David Arquette (You Cannot Kill David Arquette) to slide in and steal some scenes.
Never quite deciding what it fully wants to be, Ghosts of the Ozarks winds up being a head-scratcher for all the wrong reasons. Did I like the film? Not exactly. In the same breath, I’ll tell you it isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the imagination either. To say I wasn’t moved by it might be the worst thing I could report back, though Glass (who, like many involved with the film, wore multiple hats in the productions) composed a song for the film and replayed in the end credits that’s been stuck in my head ever since I saw it. Now that’s something I can’t say any of those road trip ranger station videos ever did for me.