The cinematic worlds of war and supernatural horror are surely dreadfellows. Whether from the gun of your enemy or raging spirits who are focusing their terrible energies on you, the inherent horror of battling for life against forces not under your control is one that squeezes the heart. Ghosts of War takes weary American soldiers in World War II and tasks them with defending a formerly Nazi-occupied French castle. You see where this is going…
It’s clear from the jitteriness of an outgoing unit, rather too keen to leave, that something is amiss within those bullet battered walls. Noises screech where they shouldn’t. Movement can be heard scuttling around. Doors move. Curtains flutter. Something raises the hair on the back of your neck: you get the drill. Writer and director Eric Bress (writer of The Butterfly Effect and Final Destination 2, and 4) uses each trick in the book with deft skill.
Our cast of soldiers are just the right size and mix of personality types to care about their wellbeing. Meathead heavy / leader barely holding it together / smart rational thinker / slightly psychotic soldier with mental break background. The first half of the movie gives you a mixture of easy to recognise tropes to latch on to, and sprinkles additional dialogue decoration in a way that isn’t necessarily new but centres the spooks nicely.
So far, so normal. However, Ghosts of War has a couple of curveballs to lob like grenades as the plot goes on, which obviously would be spoilers if I got into them. The concept of time gets rather loose as the scenes progress and the movie does address that usual complaint of “why don’t they just leave!”. Come the final act you might have to hold on to your head somewhat.
Tonally, Bress takes his movie out of the creeps and jump scares typical of ghost stories and pours in a hefty sack of grit. Shifting your mental narrative from ‘it’s behind you’ to one of differing horror is a brave move indeed.
Genre mash-ups (like Truth Seekers) are fun experiments because there’s gold to be found when taking two bubbling elements and shaking them up together. In the case of Ghosts of War this is mostly good alchemy when the horrific elements are writhing around different bases. Once the wheels come off there is more of a mental gear shift required to cling on and prevent the metaphorical jeep from crashing into the bushes.
Whether Ghosts of War lodges in your mind or gets purged due to its unorthodox technique could be a matter of personal taste. I held on and enjoyed the ride, but I can’t deny the movie has a jarring ‘let’s add yet another genre’ blend with hefty field dressing glue that barely keeps the scenes together enough for one last cock of the rifle.
Words by Mike Record