They came up with the following slogans for Hereditary: “The scariest film ever” and “A highlight in horror in the last 50 years”. Well, I wonder what they would say about Ghostland? I won’t say this is the most masterful horror of all time. And no, it’s not as frightening as The Exorcist. That one scared me to death in those days. Ghostland uses the same concept as in The Seasoning House and I Spit on your Grave. The sexual abuse of innocent girls and the psychological damage these desperate victims suffer from. It’s not trembling and shaking all the time, but the whole movie you’ll have that uncomfortable feeling.
Now, the concept of such movies is actually quite simple. In the first instance, they try to shock you with confrontational images so you’ll feel sick with disgust and anger. In such a way that the second part feels like a relief. Just like Jean-Claude Van Damme in his old movies where he fights back and wins, after being beaten up real bad. Or when an almost defeated underdog in a football match can turn the tide. That’s how the second part feels. You are a member of a fan club for the victims who fight back and avenge the injustice done to them. As in I Spit on your Grave where I couldn’t suppress a heartfelt, loud “Yes” with every execution of one of the perpetrators. And the way the victims take revenge should be ruthless and merciless. The more pain, the better. In short, a film that contrasts two opposing feelings frontally. The feeling of destruction, despair and physical pain, versus relief, liberation and a victory.
In a way, Ghostland tries to break this pattern. Yes, there’s that moment of extreme violence and that moment the situation looks desperate. And just when you think it’s going smooth, the film takes a completely new path and the struggle for survival begins again. Further revealing only leads to spoiling the fun for those who haven’t seen the film yet. But the twist in the story also surprised me. To be honest, it’s not often that a film does this to me. Usually, I see it coming a mile away. But not now.
The film was directed by Pascal Laugier who’s best known for his controversial film Martyrs; an extremely brutal film many found disgusting. I never watched it myself. Deep inside I would like to see this movie but something tells me that the extreme violence will hit me too deeply. That’s why I avoid it. Had I known that Laugier directed this movie as well, I might have ignored it too. And now I’m on the horns of a dilemma. Is this a film where Laugier went soft? Or should I try to watch Martyrs anyway?
Is it worth to watch this movie? Actually yes. And that because it’s beyond simply a brutal “home-invasion movie” with the torture, abuse, and humiliation of young girls. Here Laugier also brings the psychological impact of such a traumatic experience in the picture. He shows how the human psyche works from an individual who experiences something such as this barbaric invasion by two murderous maniacs. It’s not a film for sensitive souls even though the violence isn’t explicitly shown. However, the consequences of these brutal assaults are clearly visible. That’s why I give a thumbs-up for the make-up department.
The set-up as a whole is very successful. The house where Pauline (Mylène Farmer) and her two daughters Beth (Emilia Jones / Crystal Reed) and Vera (Taylor Hickson / Anastasia Phillips) move in, is a real junk house full of rarities and old dolls. Not that it plays a prominent role in the film, but it contributes to the entire oppressive and dark atmosphere. The acting of the two girls is mainly limited to screaming and anxiously waiting for the two halfwits to show up again. Except for Beth who became a successful writer of horror stories. Until she returns to the hell-house and is being confronted with the suffering. Mother Pauline behaves as a soothing and encouraging character. And then finally you have the two assailants. One crazier than the other, in terms of appearance. One is a goth-like person who you’ll only get to see briefly most of the time. The second is a colossal, moronic monster who’s inhumanly strong. A drooling and groaning primate who prefers to play with dolls. And he likes it even better when those dolls are alive.
All in all, Ghostland is fascinating in a way. Even though the level of sadism is quite high and you can’t shake off the feeling of fear and panic during the whole movie. The entire film is an avalanche of hysteria with that constant sense of helplessness. It’s not a horror movie about possessed houses or paranormal phenomena with the familiar jump scares and creepy moments. This is a frightening film about something that can happen in reality and that we see on the news on a regular basis. The story itself seems rather simple, but Beth’s condition creates an extra dimension. In any case, it’s a lot more frightening than Hereditary, THE horror from 2018 (sarcastic tone).
For more of Peter Pluymers’ movie reviews, check out Opinion as a Movie-Freak