There is generally a rule in cinema that says that you should make your protagonists, in some way, likeable. Even if they’re a chainsaw-wielding homicidal maniac that wears a cape made out of grannies and a codpiece from puppies there has to be something to make them a loveable rogue. What I’m saying is, if your audience begins to root for the evil disembodied spirit with power over the elements instead of your main characters then you have made a narrative blunder.
So here’s Ghost House (2017), a film about a pair of insufferable boring tourists in Thailand being hunted by a disembodied spirit who you pray ends the pair of them before the credits roll.
After a cold opening where an unnamed woman is menaced by a shadowy Siouxsie Sioux impersonator, an American couple, who made such a lasting impression on me that I never learnt their names and feel it’s beneath me at this point to look up, travel to Bangkok for a romantic getaway. Romantic getaways now, somehow, involving laughing at locals and their customs. While being shown around by local guide Gogo (Michael S. New) the girl becomes fascinated by Thai Ghost House’s, small models of homes, that are said to ward off evil spirits.
Except, in real life, those model homes are called Spirit Houses, and are shrines to the protective spirits. And with that oversight, the filmmakers tell you how well they’re going to treat Thai culture.
After dinner where the boy proposes, they end up hanging out with two British guys that show them the sights of Bangkok by night, including the obligatory sex club because apparently, we can’t have a movie set in South East Asia without having one. Then, through a contrived series of events, the British guys take them out into the country to see a real Ghost House, only to promptly abandon them there. While admiring the Ghost House, the girl interferes with it which sets of a countdown until Watabe (Wen-Chu Yang), the ghost that inhabits the shrine, will possess her body. Normally when you go out with people you’ve just met while on holiday the worst you can expect is maybe a lost wallet or an STI, not a burnt face ghost woman and yet here we are.
An utterly dull by the numbers film that does not horrify does not provoke fear, crammed with jump scares with high pitch violin strikes, it at best startles. But startling isn’t fear, isn’t dread. My cat jumping on my lap when I didn’t know he was in the room that’s startling, and when your horror film is being compared to a pet looking for an extra feed then you have to admit you’ve done a bad job. I don’t know how a ghost can look clichéd yet somehow the filmmakers have and I guess that is something to be proud of. Though maybe the ghost is the wrong word as even when it does its evil cackle thing it just looks so happy to be there.
It’s not just its lack of scares, it’s also its lack of anything. It isn’t just bad, it’s dull, dragging out longer than it should with main characters shallower than a muddy puddle. There is absolutely no chemistry of any kind between any of them and you begin to wonder if they’re real people and not just escapees from the uncanny valley.
There actually is a good film hiding here, one between Gogo and the Western occult dabbler Reno (Mark Boone Jr.). One where the bitter and jaded Reno is dragged in to help the two tourists against his better judgement, but one where Gogo and Reno are the protagonists. But nope, its yuppie couple with the punchable faces in an Orientalism horror. The treatment of Thai culture, like it’s something out of Disney land, is at best patronising and at worst flat out insulting. It treats it nothing more than a mystical McGuffin that terrorises others, something backward full of witch doctors and terror.
In the end, it’s a boring film that no one should watch, that treats a different culture as a plot point.
Dir: Rich Ragsdale
Scr: Kevin O’Sullivan & Jason Chase Tyrrell
Cast: Michael S. New, Mark Boone Jr. Scout Taylor-Compton, James Landry Hébert
Prd: Veronica Radaelli & Kevin Ragsdale
DOP: Pierluigi Malavasi
Music: Rich Ragsdale
Runtime: 89 min
Ghost House is available on VOD now.