Incident In A Ghostland. 2018.
Directed by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Crystal Reed, Anastasia Phillips, Emilia Jones, Taylor Hickson, Mylène Farmer, and Rob Archer.
The story follows a mother of two who inherits a home from her aunt. On the first night in the new home, she is confronted with murderous intruders and fights for her daughters’ lives.
Mention Pascal Laugier’s name around horror fans and most will recall his French Extremist smash-punisher Martyrs. It’s reflexive, but don’t pigeonhole the filmmaker as an international Eli Roth. Laugier’s under-the-radar Jessica Biel vessel The Tall Man is a moody thriller at best, and most recently, Incident In A Ghostland (or just Ghostland) blends familial horror a la Texas Chainsaw Massacre with notes of haunted dollhouse creeps. Mood draws from dread-soaked crime atrocities and antique oddities over skinned bodies, only Incident In A Ghostland is the least successful in conveying themes prominently featured throughout this specific filmmaker’s catalog. Mainly, female representation. Can these characters be more than molested, helpless, in-need-of-saving victims? This film doesn’t think so.
A single mother’s nightmare starts with an open stretch of backcountry road, her two daughters and a speeding candy truck (ice cream truck on steroids). Pauline (Mylene Farmer) is driving Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) to their new home, inherited from kooky Aunt Clarisse. The “happy” family of three is unpacking their belongings until tragedy strikes in the form of home invaders. Mama fights the savages off, but not before lasting damage is caused unto Vera. It still lingers years later, when adult Beth (Crystal Reed) is a successful Lovecraftian writer (fulfilling her dreams). Adult Vera (Anastasia Phillips) calls in a frantic stage of psychosis begging her sister to come home, which is obliged. A three-piece reunion where their lives changed forever…and will once again.
Before airing my grievances about this ghastly hide-and-scream game, let me recognize the film’s two young stars. Laugier places his actresses into unsettling, invasive and traumatizing situations. Neither Jones nor Hickman shortchanges audiences any reactionary horror. Afflictions are both physical and emotional. Without divulging too much information – Incident In A Ghostland pivots *hard* during a midway twist – imprisoned performances make me wish the film’s supporting material benefitted both on-screen sisters’ survivalist coping mechanisms. That doesn’t turn out to be the case, but is noteworthy *especially* since Hickman was left with an actual, treated-at-a-hospital scar thanks to unsafe working conditions forced by producers and crew.
Aesthetics are that of an emporium smothered in Victorian relics and taxidermied animal heads because…well…that’s creepy, right? Lighting is insistently dim, plies of porcelain-faced playthings gaze dead stares in every room, mirrors double as secret boxes containing pop-out puppets – Laugier’s style is “take creepy things you’ve seen before and keep them creepy.” It works at times. The demon-eyed mirror inhabitant makes for multiple worthwhile setpieces. Outside of this? Jumps become predictable and Laugier’s extremist sensibilities even more so. Will a first-timer find horror in cobwebs and cracked dummies? Certainly. Just don’t expect veterans to be shocked by functioning formulaics. Redundancies like the next strange unveiled collection Aunt Clarisse left behind.
Alas, here’s where it all falls apart (indefinitely).
Enter the film’s villains, either a trans woman or cross-dressing male and his/her/their massive blob of an accomplice, cleft lip and mental stunting his defining traits (big bad baby). “Brothers” themselves, I guess? It’s never defined, and that’s my biggest problem with Incident In A Ghostland. Transphobic and misogynistic disgust is amplified under no stated reason, given how Laugier baselessly uses his monsters in a very The Strangers way (“…because you were home”). Why does Big Boy’s Leatherface-lite child pedo sniff underage girls’ crotches? Because “it’s evil.” Why is Iggy Pop dressed in leather booty pants, a wig, feminine details and a lace-trimmed shirt? Because…I don’t know! There’s no backstory. We just know a streak of family-based murders plague the area, and these vile demons are the culprits. Uncomfortable depictions of abuse and defilement, trans culture represented as a signal of wrongdoing or instability, gross humans carrying out unspeakable acts – all in the name of Lovecraftian horror? A problematic racist himself? Rarely is cinematic intent this off-the-mark or underdeveloped.
My review is going to be of the shorter variety because Incident In A Ghostland requires the least amount of knowledge possible (if you so choose to view on). Small scare-worthy doses are split between a less defined Dead Silence riff and Rob Zombie references, but none of it’s worth the ickiness or repugnant themes that thoughtlessly prod. Incident In A Ghostland plays house with mentally unstable maniacs only to achieve the bluntest misunderstanding of “horror” I’d challenge to be dethroned this year. Pain for the sake of watching something bleed. Even in horror terms, “ill-advised” is the one phrase that keeps coming to mind.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★ / Movie: ★★