Monday, May 11, 2020

Hello Dollies

In 2008, Pascal Laugier unleashed Martyrs on the world, gaining a whole lot of love from the horror crowd. His followup, 2012's The Tall Man, was a good film that fell flat to an audience that went in expecting more flayings and came out with something far more positive. 

Now on Shudder, Incident In a Ghostland is Laugier's third film, and seems to dip deep into his bag of tricks. How does it work? Let's see.

Quick Plot: Single mom Pauline is driving her teenage daughters to their new home, an antiques-stuffed remote estate left to her by a late aunt. Oldest Vera is a bit of a brat, while younger Beth is an H.P. Lovecraft-obsessed bookworm with big dreams of being a horror novelist, even if she also happens to be scared of her own shadow.

The ladies haven't unpacked their first suitcase when a pair of violent, rapist murderers barge in. Vera is assaulted as Beth runs for cover and Pauline valiantly battles through multiple stab wounds to save her girls.

Flashing forward, Beth has gone on to make good on her childhood goals, becoming a celebrated novelist (a "master of horror," no less) with a supportive husband and happy young son. Vera, on the other hand, remains in that terrible basement, reliving her trauma over and over again.

Much like Martyrs and The Tall Man, Incident In a Ghostland has a very clear stopping point for a plot synopsis because, what do you know, there's a huge twist that changes everything and makes the film impossible to discuss further. 

This guy, you might say, has a few patterns.

I'll tread around spoiling Ghostland, a film that I can't decide whether to recommend or roll my eyes at. As he's shown before, Laugier knows how to stage an effective home invasion. His villains are unsettling in a slightly new way, but at the same time, do we really need another tale of pretty young woman being raped in a basement?

Yes, Ghostland has some surprises in store. At times, the little reveals are cool, especially in how they stop your eyeballs from rolling all the way to the back of your head once you realize that hipster typewriter has a hidden meaning. But when you sit back and start to add up the sum of Incident's parts, it's hard to find much there to justify some of the easy violence.

Laugier can direct a genre film. Incident In a Ghostland is beautifully shot and very well acted. And maybe that in itself is what makes it a disappointment. He can do so much more without falling into the trappings pretty woman running from rapists. Let's hope for something more interesting next time.

High Points
Look, I don't particularly love the nature of some of Incident In a Ghostland's violence, but as he's proved time and time again, Laugier knows how to make a sequence hurt

Low Points
There's an added awfulness to Incident In a Ghostland's legacy: actress Taylor Hickson, then just 19 playing the young Vera, was injured on set due to, by most accounts, some very irresponsible behavior on the part of the production company (Laugier included). It's one more reason to look at a film about the abuse of teenage girls with some pretty cloudy eyes

Lessons Learned
There's no better reason to write than to keep from going insane

Never underestimate the usefulness of an antique baby doll as a hand-to-hand combat weapon

I have a hard time explaining whether you should actually see Incident In a Ghostland, because I honestly don't know how I felt about it. This is a film FILLED with random creepy antique dolls, and yet I find myself wrinkling my nose trying to figure out whether I should feel some disgust at what's on and offscreen. Ultimately, it's pretty unsatisfying. 

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