July 6, 2018 Incident in a Ghost Land (Movie Review)
Director Pascal Laugier is known for his modern cult-classic 2008 French Horror offering, Martyrs, which went to some serious extremes in the name of revenge. His newest offering, Incident in a Ghost Land, is equally disturbing, a creepy affair that involves too many dolls to ever be safe for any pediophobe, but truly grounded in a deep, psychologically scarring affair. It arrived in theaters and On Demand Friday, June 22, 2018, but also makes its way to DVD July 24th thanks to Lionsgate, and your butt will leave your seat!
In Incident in a Ghost Land, we climb inside the family station wagon (remember those?) to observe as bad-ass, beautiful mom Pauline (Mylène Farmer: Giorgino 1994, Arthur and the Invisibles 2006), who is known for randomly speaking in French, and her two teen daughters – Vera (Taylor Hickson: Deadpool 2016, Everything, Everything 2017) and Beth (Emilia Jones: Utopia series, Brimstone 2016) – are heading toward their new home in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. We quickly learn that older sis Vera has been forced to leave her boyfriend behind, and is not only bitter, but jealous of her sister, who she believes that, despite being a definite freak, is their mother’s favorite. Mom, meanwhile, claims no favored child, though she is fully supportive of Beth’s writing and her daughter’s desire to be the next H.P. Lovecraft.
As the trio and their antique vehicle head down a desolate highway, they are approached by a strange and eerie ice cream truck, decked out with faux police sirens and bedazzled with Christmas lights, which seems to linger beside them longer than necessary before disappearing into the dust. Forgetting the oddity within moments of it disappearing from view, the family makes a quick stop at a local gas ‘n’ go before rolling up to their new digs, a quaint but quirky farmhouse that is overrun with antiques, including an overwhelming population of dolls.
What follows turns on its head after only a matter of minutes, and ultimately involves a witch (Kevin Power: Repo! The Genetic Opera 2008, Horsemen 2009), an ogre with a cleft-palate (Rob Archer: Lost Girl series, A Christmas Horror Story 2015) and a penchant for dollies, and two mentally unstable sisters – played by Crystal Reed (Skyline 2010, Teen Wolf series) and Anastasia Phillips (Reign series, Don’t Talk to Irene 2017).
Clocking in at 90 minutes in-length, Incident in a Ghost Land was Written and Directed by the superbly-talented, aforementioned Pascal Laugier (Martyrs 2008, The Tall Man 2012). This is a splendid offering into the Horror genre, one that toys with psychological horrors and is embedded with a multitude of juicy jump-scares. Knowing that Laugier is known for his extremist portrayals is important, and this is a film that is heavy in implied sexual assault and trauma. Our “ogre” even has a penchant for mega creep-tastic crotch-sniffing, so the easily offended need not apply!
The success of Incident in a Ghost Land weighs heavily on the viewer going into the experience blind-sided, as well as in a viewer’s ability to go with the flow even when, at times, nothing seems to make any sense. Which is to say that this film has some serious twists and turns that make its time-line a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Though, when it all clicks, you will understand entirely that this is a trip through the psyche of our victims and is, therefore, dusted heavily in delusion. But this is no sleepy Psychological Drama, no: by the 15-minute mark, the shit is already hitting the proverbial fan.
The ability to portray such a complicated tale steeped in psychology is one that requires 110% of each of its actors. Here, the bulk of the believability rests upon the shoulders of Hickson and Jones (along with Phillips and Reed), who depict the traumatized siblings, Vera and Beth. Here, casting has done such a marvelous job in pairing each of the younger actresses with a slightly older counterpart who is very much her mirror image, that, at times, it almost feels uncertain what is a flash into left-field and what is intended to be present day.
That said, Hickson and Jones are the pair that undergo the most horrific experiences, and they are believable, so much so that we cringe inwardly at their pain and struggles. We champion the ladies in their dogged determination to survive. The worst thing that can happen to a psychologically-based Horror film is an actress who is unbelievable in her role, who cries alligator tears and runs in circles flapping her arms uselessly. Here, Jones especially, gives a stellar performance as a writer who is just trying to survive a plot twist that has placed her unwittingly into the role of the leading lady.
What’s so intriguing about Incident in a Ghost Land is that, just as the action gets rolling and you begin to lose yourself to the intensity of the situation, the story does a flip onto its head and everything spins 180-degrees. You cannot say that for many films these days, let alone, those in the Horror genre. While this film is full of spins that will keep you grasping, it is ultimately a truly disturbing experience, one that will guarantee that you never hear Henry Hall & His Orchestra’s “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” quite the same ever again.
Full of the macabre and beautifully dark imagery, Incident in a Ghost Land is a wonderfully awful tale that will trouble even the most wicked of minds. For being utterly engrossing, truly alarming, and wonderfully horrific, CrypticRock give Incident in a Ghost Land 4.5 of 5 stars.