Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire should have been a horror film

Ghostbuster: Frozen Empire
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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire has had a chilly response from critics. We argue that it would have been much better as a proper horror film. 

Warning: Heavy spoilers for Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire to follow!

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’s first scene takes place in 1904. A bunch of firefighters enter a gentlemen’s club, only to find the room, not to mention everyone in it, frozen to death, while a New York heatwave rages outside. One poor bugger’s hand is still going round and round on the handle of an old gramophone, having broken off at the wrist.

It’s surprisingly nasty imagery for such a family-friendly film. Of course, all Ghostbusters films have leaned into the comedy more than the horror of the films’ plots, but there was something pretty frightening about Sigourney Weaver turning into the demigod Zuul in the 1984 original.

While Ghostbusters: Afterlife, 2021’s charming reboot of the franchise, toed the line between nostalgia and heart-warming comedy pretty well, Frozen Empire has been met with less than stellar reviews. 

ghostbusters frozem empire ice
Credit: Sony Pictures

In our review, Simon Brew noted that it’s McKenna Grace and her compelling performance as Phoebe Spengler that earns the film a third star. In other words, it’s a two-star film that has one good performance to save it. 

Others have been less kind. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph awarded the film just one star, calling it “a shameful sequel”, while Vulture described it as “witless, joyless, dull”. The film currently stands at a rotten 42% on Rotten Tomatoes

No wonder; Frozen Empire lacks any kind of courage to have an identity or to push some boundaries. The film would have been heaps better as a horror film, even as a kid-friendly one. After all, this is a film franchise that centres specifically on ghosts and demons. In this case, the demon Garraka, who has the power to freeze the entire world, is threatening our group. 

Read more: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire review | A haunted, overstuffed freezer with a terrific performance on the shelf

An icy death has plenty of potential for horrorific delights. In Jason X, memorably, a character has their face frozen by liquid nitrogen and smashed into pieces on a countertop. In Renny Harlin’s largely forgotten mid-2000s thriller Mindhunters, poor Christian Slater gets his legs frozen, again by liquid nitrogen, and shattered. We’ve seen similar frosty deaths in The Shining, Saw III and Freaky.

Unfortunately, we never really see Garraka use his freezing powers in Frozen Empire. A couple of icicles threaten to stab Paul Rudd once or twice, but there’s no real sense of danger here. The thing about most of the aforementioned films and their glacial death scenes is that they’re mostly bloodless. 

The BBFC in the UK and the MPAA in the US both work with specific guidelines which determine what age rating a film gets. Splattery horror films tend to get higher ratings (if you hadn’t noticed) but directors can be sneaky to get around the rules. It feels like there was an opportunity here to push the stakes higher with more horror without sacrificing the age rating. 

After all, surely kids are entitled to experience the thrills of horror films in a safe environment? We argued the same case about Blumhouse’s hugely successful Five Nights At Freddy’s, a gaming franchise that has a large fanbase made of kids. In a particularly clever move, director Emma Tammi stages a nasty kill, in which someone is literally bitten in half, albeit in silhouette. The effect of the scene is felt, but it’s gore-free. 

Read more: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire | The emotional story buried under a frozen lake of subplots and nostalgia

There are some scenes in Frozen Empire that suggest a darker film. In an attempt to talk to Melody, the ghost that Phoebe is implied to have a crush on, she separates her spirit from her body. Melody turns out to have been using Phoebe all along to do Garraka’s bidding and Garraka uses Phoebe’s technically dead body to chant a command that frees Garraka. It’s chilling stuff, but all too brief in a film that struggles to find its tone and identity. 

ghostbusters frozen empire
Credit: Sony Pictures

Let’s take the final fight of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Ghostbusters, old and new, are all joining forces to fight Garraka together. The ancient being quickly overpowers them (they always do) and huge icicles are pushing in on Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd and co., threatening to stab them. Now imagine if the film actually had the guts to draw just the tiniest bit of blood, how much more effective the whole ending would be. 

If there ever was a franchise to push the boundaries of family-friendly horror, surely it would be Ghostbusters? We’re not talking about going full on Saw, but it feels like a slight horror edge is baked right into the franchise’s DNA and it’s being wasted here. Frozen Empire specifically feels like a film that would have benefitted from a few scares, a bit more goo – and definitely more ice. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is out now in cinemas. 

Podcast | Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire with director and co-writer Gil Kenan

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