‘Ghost House’: Film Review
Rich Ragsdale’s low-budget horror film follows an unsuspecting couple’s encounter with supernatural forces in rural Thailand.
Two clueless American tourists on a visit to Thailand fall victim to a vengeful demon in Ghost House, a discordantly derivative attempt at amalgamating divergent horror cliches and unrelated cultural traditions. Familiar themes of supernatural possession and murderous intent, along with a competently assembled trailer, may be enough to lure the unsuspecting into theaters, but late-night streamer surfing is likely to yield a more sizable audience.
If you’ve ever taken a vacation to a country where English is only spoken only as the third or fourth local language, maybe you prepared by reading some destination guides, consulting experienced friends or checking out online resources. So that by the time you arrive, you already know some survival basics: Ignore the touts (whatever they’re touting), never take the first price offered (on almost anything) and respond cautiously to overly friendly strangers (especially if they insist on buying dinner or drinks).
Some people like to wing it, though, so on their first overseas trip, Los Angeles couple Jim (James Landry Hebert) and Julie (Scout Taylor Compton) arrive unprepared at Suvarnabhumi airport and are instantly accosted by Gogo (Thai-Canadian Michael S. New), a voluble Bangkok shuttle driver and self-styled tourist guide. After he drops them at their hotel, they enjoy a romantic dinner at a trendy riverside restaurant, where Jim proposes and Julie joyfully accepts. Apparently nobody told them to avoid sketchy punters, though, because when they return to their hotel, they’re waylaid by Brits Rob (Russell Geoffrey Banks) and Bill (Rich Lee Gray), who invite them out for a drink to celebrate their engagement.
In fact, their party-hearty plan is actually a ruse to persuade the Americans to drive upcountry with them in the middle of the night to visit a Thai cultural site that turns out to be an abandoned Buddhist graveyard located in a dismal forest. Almost jokingly, Rob goads Julie into removing a miniature stone figure from one of the cemetery’s spirit houses, a type of devotional shrine shaped like a traditional Thai temple. As Rob and Bill make a dash for their vehicle, a horrific female demon materializes, practically consuming Julie, who’s left nearly catatonic. Abandoned and struggling to find their way out of the woods and locate help, Jim realizes that their situation is way more serious than some kind of an elaborate prank and that Julie’s life may actually be endangered.
In a typical horror movie, we might go along with this presumption of supernatural possession, but Ghost House’s perspective and reference points are so random that this central plot twist never really takes hold. Aside from the point that spirit houses (or “ghost houses” if you want to call them that) aren’t considered the domain of demons, this otherworldly being bears far more resemblance to the long-haired, sallow-skinned ghouls of J-horror touchstones The Ring and The Grudge than any equivalent in Thai folklore. (In fact, Gogo tells Jim that the spirit possessing Julie is the ghost of a Japanese woman who died under violent circumstances.)
Not that you’d care either way if this demon attached itself to you, and Julie certainly isn’t culturally profiling the thing. Mostly she just wants to get rid of it before the three-day incubation period expires and she’s completely consumed. But that means that Jim will to have to man up and confront badass American drug dealer Reno (Mark Boone Junior), who seems to be the only one with a clue about how to completely banish the ghoul after an earlier exorcism fails.
Yes, there’s more than just a whiff of Only God Forgives hanging over Rich Ragsdale’s feature, as he turns up the lurid lighting effects while Kevin O’Sullivan and Jason Chase Tyrrell’s script pits desperate expats against unnervingly unfamiliar cultural norms. They really don’t need to expend so much effort trying to sort it all out, though, since the film’s internal logic remains monumentally nonsensical, with the exception of a sinister plot device linking the central characters that echoes David Robert Mitchell’s far superior It Follows.
With all of this cultural and creative appropriation going on, it’s hard to isolate a real glimmer of originality, but perhaps for a composer doubling as a director, Ragsdale’s real talent is for creative assimilation.
Production companies: KNR Productions, Benetone Films, The Exchange
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: James Landry Hebert, Scout Taylor Compton, Mark Boone Junior, Michael S. New, Russell Geoffrey Banks, Rich Lee Gray
Director: Rich Ragsdale
Screenwriters: Kevin O’Sullivan, Jason Chase Tyrrell
Producers: Veronica Radaelli, Kevin Ragsdale
Executive producers: Luke Daniels, Daemon Hillin, Kulthep Narula, Rachvin Narula, Alan Pao, Jeanette Zhou
Director of photography: Pierluigi Malavasi
Production designer: Thongchai Sittirat
Costume designer: Kim H. Ngo
Editor: Jay Gartland
Music: Rich Ragsdale