Studio: Giant Pictures
Director: John Stimpson
Writer: Geoffrey Taylor, John Stimpson
Producer: Geoffrey Taylor, John Stimpson
Stars: Roger Bart, Tom Riley, Shannyn Sossamon, Danielle Campbell, Scott Adsit, Steve Tom, Carol Kane, Cary Elwes
Supernatural strangeness plagues a performance of Macbeth when a quirky theater troupe invokes the haunted play’s curse.
More superstitions govern how to handle one’s self in a theater than Keye Luke has instructions for handling a mogwai. Leave a light lit on a darkened stage to ward off ghostly spirits. Don’t whistle or else risk accidentally cueing a stagehand to dump a set piece on your dome. And never, ever say the name “Macbeth” unless you want to unleash the curse of the witches connected to Shakespeare’s supposedly haunted play.
The eccentric cast featured in John Stimpson’s comedy “Ghost Light” breaks all three rules within five minutes of arriving at the Riverside Lodge and Theater. Their 11-person outfit has come to this out of the way B&B venue to put on their 51stperformance of The Bard’s ‘Scottish Play.’ Now the wicked wrath invoked by uttering the forbidden name threatens to throw the troupe for a humorously horrifying loop, if their egos and idiosyncrasies don’t unravel everyone first.
A stock assortment of stage play stereotypes suits up for “Ghost Light.” Déjà vu dominates pat personalities as written, although an excellent ensemble warms everyone up with charismatic aplomb.
Cary Elwes puts a juicy side order of ham on his plate as he playfully chews up the part of leading man Alex, a faded soap star whose pretension eclipses talent. He’s so full of himself he can’t see his disinterested wife Liz (Shannyn Sossamon) has been carrying on an affair with scheming British thespian Thomas (Tom Riley), who has designs on taking Alex’s place onstage as well as off.
Carol Kane breaks her string of underused appearances in flighty flicks like “The Dead Don’t Die” (review here) in a role with some minor meat on its bones. Like two-thirds of the overstuffed roster, Kane doesn’t feature often. When she does, she makes it count. Kane commits wholeheartedly to an aging veteran whose inability to accept criticism causes her to crack cartoonishly in more than one instance.
Long lost Duplass brother Roger Bart isn’t as haggard as one might expect for put-upon director Henry. Bart plays Henry as less desperate, more realistic for a man whose main job is keeping has-beens and almost-weres copasetic. Scott Adsit puts a pinch of zealous zaniness on Bart’s hip as a homely assistant director surprisingly disheartened he won’t get to don a woman’s wig when enchanting newcomer Juliet (Danielle Campbell) takes over as one of the witches.
Spotlights don’t swing as squarely at the rest of the gang. Gay stagehands Troy and Nigel used to be an item. Additional actress Annabel engages in a tame tryst with prop man Jason. Kane’s character becomes embroiled in a third go-nowhere romance by flirting with her counterpart Elliot (Steve Tom). I can’t say for certain if rewriting or re-editing reconfigured these arcs into forgettable flings featuring forgettable people. I can only say that they’re reappearing hangnails of inconsequence in an otherwise sprightly paced little film.
“Ghost Light” lays groundwork for mirth more irreverent than it ends up employing. At top speed, the movie might tread territory closer to a Mel Brooks parody or similarly snappy, satirical send-up of entertainment industry tropes. Director John Stimpson instead rides the brakes to keep a highway-safe tempo in terms of characterization and comedy. That’s as much of a mild criticism as it is guidance for gauging expectations appropriately.
In other words, “Ghost Light’s” brand of quiet quirk won’t induce outrageous laughter or slaps of the knee. However, the film maintains consistent bemusement without being boisterous about its humor, making for a friendlier film whose light lick of fright goes down smooth with good-natured goofs.
Tempering the anticipation teeter-totter further, I’ll add that “Ghost Light” is a mid-card movie best suited to call a streaming service home. It’s not blueprinted for box office blockbusting. It’s unlikely to become anyone’s all-time favorite film. But it looks sharp even when energy isn’t, and the cast exerts effort to keep the pulse lively even when comedy gets quashed by duller drama. Fitting into a nice niche for theater freaks or appreciators of offbeat indies, the low-key legs on “Ghost Light” hit a nimble stride for wispy humor with a small spike of cheeky horror.
Review Score: 65