Judas Ghost follows one of the most overused plots of recent years. Ghost hunters find real ghosts and meet a nasty end. Thanks to the popularity of ghost hunting shows and the ease of adapting it to cheaply made found footage films like Grave Encounters and The La Llorna Curse and alleged documentaries such as Demon House this has been pushed past cliché into pretty much a realm of its own.
So I wasn’t overly excited when I heard about this film, another low budget effort in the genre and probably would have skipped it if I hadn’t noticed it was written by novelist Simon R. Green. While not a household name Green has written several bestsellers, a couple of which I’ve read. So I decided to see what he and director Simon Pearce (Horizon, I Am the Doorway) had come up with.
The title Judas Ghost is a play on the term “Judas goat” an animal trained to lead others into the slaughterhouse in return for its life being spared. In the film, we have a ghost who is there to lure investigators into the haunted building where they find a much more powerful entity waiting for them. In this case, a team shooting a training video for other ghost hunters from the Carnacki Institute, (“We don’t take any shit from the Hereafter!”), who think they have the perfect subject to call up and banish, instead they have a “Beast” as powerful and destructive as ghosts get.
The team sets up in a school’s hall complete with high tech gear and circles of protection drawn on the floor. We have the team’s leader Jerry (Martin Delaney, Zero Dark Thirty, Catch-22), a somewhat overconfident and smarm type. Anna (Lucy Cudden, Chemical Wedding, Collider) the team’s psychic and it’s hinted Jerry’s ex girlfriend. All that high tech gear belongs to Ian (Alexander Perkins, Law & Order: UK) he’s the team’s geek there to monitor everything that’s going on from room temperature to electromagnetic activity.
These three usually work as a team but this time they have an additional member Mark (Simon Merrells, Spartacus, The Rise of the Krays) who’s filming the activities and making a comeback of sorts after being the sole survivor of an investigation gone wrong.
It doesn’t take long before they make a chilling discovery and the doors vanish into the walls in very creepy sequence and darkness literally comes after them. The scene where the dark crashes up against their circles of protection is tense and effective. And with that darkness comes the Judas Ghost ( Grahame Fox, The Convent) himself, human, but with an effectively gruesome and creepy looking makeup job.
From here it’s a battle between them as the ghosts try to manipulate them into leaving the circle and they try to find a way to defeat it. Yes, characters do stupid things and die as a result but it’s not the usual “lets split up and wander around in the dark” kind of things They at least have a feel of something somebody would do when subjected to this kind of fear, even if it’s not the brightest option.
To Pearce’s credit he doesn’t try to push what is obviously a very limited budget. 90% of the film takes place in one room, something the movie was almost over before it actually hit me. Judas Ghost actually gets by on plotting and well written dialogue and these, paired with a brief 75 minute running time keeps things interesting and prevents things from dragging. He also keeps the scenes needing effects under control both in scope and in number which means the budget can be used to do them right and make them count.
On the negative side, Judas Ghost takes place in the same world as Green’s “Ghost Finders” novels and at times it would have helped if some of the backstory had been filled in. I’ve read a couple of them so it wasn’t an issue for me but it could leave some viewers a little confused. It would also have avoided some very clunky exposition which makes it feel like the characters are pulling things out of their ass. This is especially true at the film’s climax, what happens makes excellent sense within the film’s rules, but it really needed to be set up, or at least mentioned, more than five minutes before the film’s big showdown.