Pascal Laugier wrote and directed MARTYRS. That has been both a gift and a curse for him because with the notoriety and acclaim it brought him it also brought expectations. Expectations that have been hard for him to match. It took four years for him to make his next feature, the disappointing THE TALL MAN, and now six years after that, we have INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND. Well, Laugier has brought back MARTYRS brutality, but the intelligence? That’s another story.
Single mother Pauline (French pop singer Mylène Farmer) inherits a house from her sister and moves into it with her two teenage daughters Beth (Emilia Jones BRIMSTONE, HIGH-RISE) and Vera (Taylor Hickson DEADPOOL, RESIDUE). They’re not even fully unpacked when the house is invaded by a 400ld hulk (Rob Archer, DARKEN, TRENCH 11) and a sinister-looking companion.
Sixteen years later a frantic call from Vera (Anastasia Phillips) brings Beth (Crystal Reed TEEN WOLF, SKYLINE), now a successful writer, back to the old house where her mother and sister live. Vera has never recovered from the attack and is mentally unstable. Once the three are united however the truly strange incidents begin.
INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND wants to be a conventional horror film with the brutality cranked up the extreme levels. This might have worked if the script had been tighter. Laugier has given the film a couple of major plot twists, but the big one was obvious to me well before it occurred. Considering it’s in the middle of the film that’s not a good thing at all. I’m not going to spoil it, because if you don’t get see it coming it probably will be a hell of a shock, unfortunately, it’s badly telegraphed.
The script slips back and forth between past and present, reality and fantasy in an effort to keep the audience off guard. It does to a degree but it also left me just plain confused at points. Streamlining some of the last act might have helped a bit.
Something that some people probably will have an issue with is the violence. In MARTYRS there was a reason for the pain inflicted. It made what was put on the screen seem less gratuitous and offensive. Here there is no reason beyond evil people gratifying themselves. We basically have ninety minutes of two girls being beaten, raped and humiliated. It’s not sanitized violence either, it’s nasty and grim.
And they’re not even terribly interesting villains. One is a cliched mentally challenged brute, the kind of character I expect in a cheap slasher, not from somebody who’s supposed to be one of the genre’s best and brightest. I won’t say too much about his companion, there’s a “twist”, more like a cheap throwaway actually, that I won’t spoil. Suffice to say a lot of folks will find it offensive. If this was a lesser-known director there would already be loud cries of misogyny and anti-LGBT hostility.
The film does have its moments and the house itself is a great piece of set design. It’s better than THE TALL MAN, and from another director, it might have been tolerable. But coming from somebody who has proven what he’s capable of, INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND is a disappointment.
Vertical Entertainment will release INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND in theatres and on VOD platforms on June 22, 2018. Amazon lists the DVD as a July 24th release from Lionsgate.