Updated: 6 days ago
Being a horror fan goes hand in hand with being a collector. We buy action figures, posters, framed autographs, and hundreds of DVDs we might never even watch. I’m no exception to the rule; my house is absolutely cluttered with stuff I don’t need in a way that would make Tyler Durden shudder.
In order to curb the amount of unwatched movies in my DVD collection and in my streaming que, I’m participating in the annual 31 Movies in 31 Days Challenge. My goal is to watch one movie I haven’t seen every day in October, and I’ll give you my first reactions on each of them.
I’m hoping this will be an interactive adventure—do you agree with my opinions on the various movies? Are there parts of my brief review you’d like to discuss more? Most of all: what movies would you like me to add to my list?
We’re in the trenches together now, just Chase and (Your Name Here)! Without further ado, here’s the first of 31 consecutive movie reviews.
The first movie I watched in the month of October is Incident in a Ghostland via Shudder. This movie’s been on my list for quite a while, and part of the reason I’ve avoided watching it is because I don’t do well with home invasion movies. I’m not saying I’m terrified of home invasions (this is America; I have a gun), but any time there’s a home invasion in a horror movie, it rarely bodes well for the characters, especially the women. Being that Ghostland is written and directed by Pascal Laugier, who previously gave us Martyrs, I was content to save this movie for a particularly rainy day.
For the most part, the plot of Ghostland is straightforward: a mother and her two daughters, Beth and Vera, inherit a strange and secluded house from a recently-deceased aunt. En route to moving in, Beth (the budding writer in the family) reads a headline about a series of murders in the area. Surprise, surprise: their new home is broken into during their very first night, and shit pretty much hits the fan from there.
The movie wasn’t as gross or shock-seeking as I anticipated. I hate gratuitous rape scenes in horror movies, and that’s what I thought the movie would be filled with. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t rely on shock value alone, and most of the particularly awful events happen off-screen. It kept me on the edge of my seat through most of the runtime, especially from the midpoint onward. I’m not going to give away the twist, because that would be downright bastardly of me…all I’ll say is that it mostly worked. There were some holes in the story, and as much as I like what the twist does for character building, it rubbed me the wrong way the more I thought about it.
One of the main criticisms of Ghostland that I’ve seen on various review sites is the lack of plot. While I would’ve preferred a richer storyline, and maybe a better reasoning for the twist, I think this is a movie that benefits from placing action over plot. Much like Damien Leone’s Terrifier, Laugier’s Ghostland moves along quickly and rarely stops to give us a look at the villains beyond the superficial details, and it’s that lack of humanizing insight that makes the tense scenes really work.
One of the scenes I liked most took place in a room filled with creepy dolls. When the home invasion begins, one of the villains tells the girls, “We just want to play with dolls,” and their goal in tormenting their victims seems to be beating the humanity out of them and turning them into obedient and emotionless toys.
Ghostland seems to have to have a lot to do with trauma, and how we view events through the lens of either fantasy of reality. I thought this theme would lead to a much better moment of catharsis toward the end of the movie, but it sort of fell apart when the “woodsman-type” character comes to the rescue at the end. If you’re unfamiliar with the “woodman” character, he’s the man who comes to the rescue at the end of many fairy tales. Perhaps I’m wrong here, but I thought the ending would’ve been better if the girls had been left completely to their own devices and were forced to fight their tormentors on their own.
All in all, Incident in a Ghostland is one of the better movies I’ve seen on Shudder and definitely a flex of Pascal Laugier’s directorial skills. The tense moments really worked, and the creepy dolls filling the house were pure nightmare fuel.
Join me tomorrow when I talk about the second of thirty-one consecutive movies! Is there a movie you think I haven’t seen yet that you’d like me watch and discuss? Tell me below in the comments!