Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Pascal Laugier
Writer: Pascal Laugier
Producer: Jean-Charles Levy, Nicolas Manuel, Clement Miserez, Matthieu Warter, Ian Dimerman, Sami Tesfazghi, Scott Kennedy, Brendon Sawatzky
Stars: Crystal Reed, Anastasia Phillips, Emilia Jones, Taylor Hickson, Kevin Power, Rob Archer, Mylene Farmer, Adam Hurtig
Intruders terrorize a mother and her two teenage daughters inside their secluded countryside home.
“Incident in a Ghostland” immediately endears itself to horror fiction fans by opening on a photo of H.P. Lovecraft. The grandmaster’s fingerprint of eldritch entities and sanity shattering sights won’t be found inside the film however. “Incident in a Ghostland” is a more visceral breed of beast.
Take a look at the logline. “Intruders terrorize a mother and her two teenage daughters inside their secluded countryside home.” After picking up the eyes that just rolled out of their sockets, understand that although the unenticing summary’s surface sounds like old hat, the movie stocks several secrets up its sleeve to notch it above being another routine run through a harrowing home invasion.
Aspiring author and Lovecraft lover Beth, her harrumphing sister Vera, and their French expatriate mother Pauline are moving into dead aunt Clarissa’s remote countryside home. Populated only by a collection of creepy old dolls, it’s a house so haunting that Vincent Price should offer $10,000 to spend the night.
Eeriness starts ahead of their arrival. On the drive, a curious candy truck driven by a shadowy woman charges the trio’s vehicle as though it is dueling Dennis Weaver. The weird wagon continues stalking the women when they stop at a gas station. There, Beth also spots a newspaper headline about local parents being murdered in their homes while daughters are strangely spared. What Beth does not yet realize of course is that they are about to become the killer’s next targets.
Saying anything more starts straying into spoiler territory. If this is the extent of the information you have regarding the story, keep it that way. “Incident in a Ghostland” is a leap best taken wearing a blindfold beforehand. It’s not overly tricky, but the movie is better able to enrapt attention when the majority of its mystique is maintained.
If you’re still anxious to acquire a sense of the style in store, “Incident in a Ghostland” can be described in terms of the unease instilled via tried and true suspense setups. “Ghostland” wears obvious influences on both sleeves. Writer/director Pascal Laugier paints with stripes of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Strangers,” “The Shining,” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Most of these moments stitch in seamlessly. Some seem included simply to have a “Children of the Corn” kid run across the road for no real reason.
From sketchy electricity to messages written on mirrors, all levels of “where have I seen that before?” tropes are mixed in. But by not emulating any one movie too directly, “Incident in a Ghostland” largely feels like its own evil entity regardless of the echoes. Many sounds bounce back to strike the same fearful chords those films did, allowing “Ghostland” to aim straight for similar thrills without ripping off the originals outright.
To a lesser extent than he did with “Martyrs” (review here), Laugier structures “Ghostland” as an exercise intended to disturb viewers, and it does. Boundaries are pushed, although Laugier doesn’t go as far as other shock-oriented filmmakers have, himself included. Teen girls are physically abused and stabbing slaughter stays savage. Yet Laugier reins in such action so that intensity facilitates dread. It would be a stretch to claim the violence here is sensationalized or unjustified.
“Incident in a Ghostland” may not go far with gore, though suggestive scenes still evoke arguably unnecessary discomfort. Would the finale have any less bark in its bite if it didn’t feature flesh torn off with teeth? Probably not. And I personally don’t need to see a girl peeing on herself while held upside down to sell the awfulness of her ordeal. That being said, Devil’s Advocate could attribute such inclusions to the sensibilities French horror films like those from Laugier and Maury/Bustillo often display. Tastes tuned further west have been warned.
Meanwhile, I contend that this spin leans closer to cerebral in how it goes about being unsettling. Unusual antagonists and atypical storytelling remain weird enough to take the edge off of how nihilistic the horror can be. Although occasionally ugly, “Incident in a Ghostland’s” mysterious mannerisms are intriguingly terrifying. Provided some simplicity and plentiful pugilism can be stomached, “Ghostland’s” gruesome grittiness can satisfy almost any appetite for nightmarishly frightful chills.
Review Score: 75