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Ghosts of the Ozarks (Film Review)

3 min read

Signature Entertainment

A young African American doctor begins a night of camping in the woods while travelling to a new job in the small post-Civil War settlement of Norfork, Arkansas. As he settles in for a cup of coffee, a shifty man appears from the shadows and attacks the doctor, but before he can inflict any serious damage, a red mist descends upon the surrounding woods and seems to pull him away, never to be seen again. It's an exciting opening, but unfortunately, any sense of engagement and curiosity disappears as quickly as the red smoke that haunts the forests around Norfork.

is not short on interesting ideas. The story of James ‘Doc' McCune (), a black doctor, finding a societal haven in postbellum America bares enough potential alone to create an intriguing racial . Add a touch of the supernatural and you have the makings of something on the level of Jordan Peele's recent successes exploring horrors both fabricated and all too real. Try as they might, however, directors Jordan Wayne Long and Matt Glass can't elevate their film to those lofty heights.

Signature Entertainment

Despite the mysterious, brooding atmosphere Ghosts of the Ozarks tries to conjure, the film itself never succeeds in creating a chilling story. In fact, there are little to no real scares at all – a disappointment given the film's modest but commendable production design. Norfork seems to exist in the perfect place and time for ghoulish goings on, and the town is constructed inside a perimeter of wooden walls to keep the titular ghosts out. We are told by Doc's uncle Matthew (), Norfork's de facto leader, that the agreement of the townsfolk's roles and purposes in daily life is what creates the harmony between man and spirit. The townsfolk are also ordered to stay within the confines of the town's walls unless explicitly given permission to venture out, and even then, they are to travel under the safety of daylight. This would create tension if only Doc had any urgent reason to travel outwith the town's confines at night. As it stands, the rules are mostly followed, save for a few minor characters who amount to no more than ghost-fodder.

While the script tends to let things down, the cast are, for the most part, in the film's favour, delivering generally solid performances. Hobson brings a quiet distrust to Doc, a man who has been marked – both mentally and physically – by the recent war. adds a touch of energy and enthusiasm as the town's hatmaker and photography enthusiast, while provides a bit of clout as Torb, the local saloon owner. Fans of Nelson's previous Coen Brothers collaborations O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs once again get to hear the character actor's pipes as he belts out yet another tune on a movie set. If they ever try to remake Paint Your Wagon, Tim Blake Nelson's your man.

Signature Entertainment

As with any independent production, there is something to be admired in the overall construction of the film. Looking at the crossover between the cast and crew lists only demonstrates how these kinds of passion projects come into being, with a small group of people striving to bring another original story to the big (or small) screen. With similarities to films like The Village and even The Wicker Man, the word ‘original' may be debatable here, but some attempt has been made to make a horror film with something to say about the structures of society. Sadly, it's just not enough.

While Ghosts of the Ozarks features a game cast and some quality set and costume design, its flat script, slow pacing and lack of anything close to true horror lets the film down, likely leaving genre fans feeling much the same way.

Ghosts of the Ozarks is available to purchase and rent on digital platforms from 23rd of May 2022.