FrightFest 2020: A Ghost Waits review

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The haunted house movie gets a slightly different spin on it in A Ghost Waits, a horror low on fright, but full of much to love and enjoy.

Following the release of Zack Snyder and James Gunn’s Dawn Of The Dead remake and Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Shaun Of The Dead, zombies unexpectedly became a hugely prominent part of pop culture. As a result of not only the trend, but the hugely disparate tones between those two movies (and the self-awareness of Shaun), the concept of the zombie was subsequently mined extensively, with a plethora of movies, TV shows, games and print media telling stories set across a wide scale of styles and approaches.

Part of the wave of zombiemania were the first zombie blockbuster, World War Z, and the long running zombie drama The Walking Dead. But the trend was also populated by a seemingly endless run of smaller horror movies. The likes of Life After Beth, Maggie and Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse looked for fresh, unexpected angles from which to approach and exploit the trend.

A Ghost Waits feels like the equivalent; a new angle on the haunted house movie, although one unprompted by some mad downpour of inventive ghost movies.

From director Adam Stovall, who also writes and shares a story by credit with Matt Taylor, A Ghost Waits finds Jack (Macleod Andrews) preparing a house for new tenants, working over the plumbing and checking the place over and, at the owner’s request, trying to work out why everyone keeps cutting their lease short on the place. With no-one to lean on for a sofa to crash on he takes to staying in the house, only to encounter a spectral agent who wants him gone.

Muriel (Natalie Walker) has been haunting this house for some time and finds herself taken aback that Jack doesn’t seem to be responding to being haunted. The two fail to establish a traditional haunted house ghost and terrified occupant relationship, sending the story in an unexpected direction.

A Ghost Waits is presented in black and white, which proves to be a canny decision on two counts. The first is that it displaces the film’s time, allowing characters from different eras to intermingle without it feeling like either one is out of place. The second is that this is a microbudget film and black and white is significantly more accommodating to make-up effects and stylized lighting. For something that looks like it was made with limited resources, this is not an unpleasant film to look at.

It’s a genre savvy affair, with the script including allusions to and jokes about ghosts and horror movies. However, the film this writer felt most prominently guiding A Ghost Waits is Beetlejuice. Switching out Tim Burton’s eccentric, bouncy tone for a more mellowed, indie comedy-drama flavor, it none the less leans into Burton’s light-hearted exploration of a world beyond death. In place of Burton’s endless waiting room, for example, is an insight into undead admin.

In Muriel we have a ghost in the throes of an identity crisis, someone questioning their place in life. Or rather, in death. Natalie Walker puts in a brilliant turn, at first a convincing spooky presence before imbuing a warm humanity in the cold, dead Muriel. She’s well served by the script, her character a ghost with authentic vulnerabilities.

Macleod Andrews is similarly impressive as Jack, the good natured, lonely heart of the film. It’s lucky that Andrews is such a watchable, pleasant presence to spend time with as he’s on screen for the majority of the movie. Again, the script has his back, with Jack frustrated but positive, lacking in direction but friendly and kind. Jack is a character as dissatisfied with life as Muriel is with death.

The humour has the loose, casual feel of Apatow style humour. It’s quite gentle, not imposing and it contributes to the tone more than it draws laughs. It gives the first half of the film the levity it needs to bring you in so it can draw some real emotional responses from you in its second half.

Not everything works; the script is unpolished in sections, the film can look scrappy and there are small pockets of runtime that feel a little airy. But, A Ghost Waits has heart and is positive and inventive and that makes it an easy film to root for. You may notice those flaws but for this writer, they don’t make a strong impact on the feel of the film.

Ultimately it’s the unexpected relationship/bonding element of A Ghost Waits that makes it work. It’s not a scary film, but it utilises the language of horror to tell a story about a relationship. It’s fantastical, yet at its core it is human and earnest and sweet. A lovely film well worth keeping an eye out for.

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