October Horrorshow: Ghosts of War

What a disappointing mess. There are a bunch of solid ideas in Ghosts of War, the new horror flick from writer/director Eric Bress. It’s the execution that is lacking.

The film takes place during World War Two, after the Allies have invaded France. A squad of paratroopers, led by Chris (Brenton Thwaites), is assigned to guard a French chateau that had been used by the Nazis. On the short journey to the chateau, we meet the other members of the squad. They are boilerplate WW2 movie characters. There’s the tough guy, Butchie (Alan Ritchson); the smart guy, Eugene (Skylar Astin), the tough from the city, Kirk (Theo Rossi), and the soft-spoken but lethal southerner, Tappert (Kyle Gallner). Accents and attitudes are used to establish their war flick bona fides, and then viewers see them committing a few war crimes before they arrive at the chateau. War is hell, right?

Another squad has already been keeping an eye on the chateau when Chris and his squad arrive. They are an anxious bunch. Despite having the run of the mansion, its luxurious bedrooms, warm water taps, everything in its larder, and a sea of booze in the basement, this first squad cannot wait to get the hell out of there. They don’t choose to let Chris and company know what has them so spooked, but it’s clear something about the chateau made them uncomfortable. They leave post haste.

Before Chris’s squad has been there for more than a few hours, it becomes clear that the place is haunted. Eugene finds a journal from one of the Germans that had been there, and finds out that when the Germans arrived, they murdered the family that had been living there. Now, it is the restless spirits of the family that are scaring the bejesus out of the squad.

Chris won’t let the squad leave, however, or watch the place from a safe distance. In a time of war, deserting one’s post earns a court martial and life imprisonment, so it’s up to the soldiers Ghosts of War movie posterto stick it out. The house doesn’t make that easy, though. Besides all the thumping and apparitions, the house seems to want the Germans and Americans to get into a scrap. So, besides all the ghostly stuff, a little gunplay gets thrown into the mix.

Like I wrote above, this is good stuff. There is a good movie to be made, here. But this just isn’t it.

For one, Bress relies too much on jump scares. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but the jump scares in this flick are telegraphed, so a viewer knows they are coming, and they just aren’t good. Most of the time the jump scare is a spectral face popping into frame and screaming. The general quality of these jump scares is similar to that found in old arcade rail shooters. A face is there just long enough to produce a shot of adrenaline and then goes it away. And these jump scares are all the fright this film has. Everything else is too predictable to be scary.

Everything is predictable, that is, but the ending.

Twist endings have become de rigueur in mediocre horror and thriller flicks. I blame Seven, The Sixth Sense, and The Usual Suspects. Ever since that trifecta of plot shenanigans, every filmmaker under the sun wants to make a movie with a twist. In the hands of a good storyteller, a twist produces that elusive ‘wow’ reaction in an audience. In less capable hands, a twist is just a lazy way to seem clever. In this case of this film, the twist is outlandish past the point of absurdity. It was just the wrong way to go, period. There was, again, a fine idea in the main plot, that didn’t need a twist forced into it.

This potentially good movie flounders from beginning to end. It’s little more than a mishmash of modern war flick tropes and tired ghost tropes. If one really needs to see a shitty World War Two horror flick, check out The Keep. That flick is wild. Ghosts of War is just bad. It takes over the #275 spot from Exeter. Stay away.

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