Studio: Entertainment One
Director: Petr Jakl
Writer: Petr Jakl, Petr Bok
Producer: Petr Jakl
Stars: Jennifer Armour, Alina Golovlyova, Jeremy Isabella, Paul S. Tracy, Inna Belikova, Vladimir Nevedrov, Yuriy Zabrodskyj
A documentary film crew researching cannibalism in Ukraine awakens the evil spirit of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo.
Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo was a despicable person. Between 1978 and 1990, Chikatilo butchered over 50 women and children in ferocious fashion after spending several previous years committing a series of savage sexual assaults. By all accounts, Chikatilo, who was executed in 1994, stands among the worst murderers in human history.
Despite rumors of eating his victims having never been corroborated, you might think a film crew making a documentary on cannibalism near Chikatilo’s birthplace of Yablochnoye might have heard of the notorious man known as “The Butcher of Rostov” as well as “The Red Ripper.” They haven’t. You might also think that with the goal of producing a pilot hoping to find funding for further episodes, their project might choose a better title than “Cannibals of the 20th Century,” as it is hard to imagine PBS biting at the bit to add that after “Downton Abbey” on their broadcast schedule.
Americans Jenny, Ryan, and Ethan are overseas researching the manmade famine of 1932-1933 that caused widespread cannibalism under Stalin’s fist in Ukraine. They also have a more modern angle in mind by aiming to interview Boris Glaskov (fictional), an admitted cannibal who would have been tried for murder had his missing colleague’s body ever been found.
Thanks to the bribery of local guide Valeriy and the attractiveness of translator Katarina, Boris has agreed to tell his tale to the filmmaking trio, provided the interview takes place in the creepiest, most isolated woodland house imaginable. Oh, they’ll also need a psychic witch to help conduct spirit summoning sessions with a homemade Ouija board. What can go wrong with those ingredients, right?
Plenty. Boris wasn’t acting alone when his teeth tore into his partner. He had help from the ghost of none other than Andrei Chikatilo himself, back from the dead to put an evil plan for resurrection into action. His supernatural spirit roused out of Hell, Chikatilo now holds everyone hostage in a waking nightmare of possession, bloodletting, and feasts on human flesh.
Certainly not the best, definitely not the worst, “Ghoul” is an above average first-person fright film. The movie’s mix of true crime history with “found footage” fiction is not quite on the same level of serial killer exploitation as The Asylum’s “8213: Gacy House” (review here) or “100 Ghost Street: The Return of Richard Speck” (review here), at least. There is much more earnest intent here to be legitimately terrifying with supernatural shocks, a claustrophobic climax, and gruesome carnage. Seeing one man rip his own skin, one woman bite off her own tongue, and one cat turned inside out are among some of the standout scares poised to make even steeled stomachs squirm.
Setups for story beats don’t always make sense. When the Americans lose their translator, yet the spirit board carved in the Ukrainian alphabet needs to communicate with them for a scene, somehow they suddenly understand what it spells, complete with English subtitles onscreen for those of us following along at home. There are also minor goofs like a camera’s date stamp changing between 11/27 and 11/28 during the same scene. Realism may not be the movie’s strong suit, something usually essential for effective “found footage,” but the sincerity from director Petr Jakl’s staging suggests his firm focus on fright is more important above everything else.
“Ghoul” is formulaic, though not wholly forgettable. If nothing else, the Ukrainian backdrop makes for a landscape more engaging than a nondescript forest or plain-walled asylum when going through the usual motions of exposition. And while a movie intended for entertainment is probably the last thing considered reliable for factual information, brief points of history offer additional interest relating to real-life horrors.
“Ghoul” can best be encapsulated by the boilerplate summary often heard echoing when describing any number of contemporary “found footage” films. I.e. if you’re among those fed up with the subgenre, there is nothing new to see here. Tolerant tastes forgiving of formula on the other hand, may find fright in the isolated setting and rawness of the terror, even if “Ghoul” doesn’t possess the power to pull the socks from your feet.
Review Score: 60