Monday, March 15, 2010
Ghosts Don't Exist
There are few things more annoying in life than when a celebrity who's already successful at one thing announces that he or she also wants to be successful at something else. It's like, can't you just stay in your box and be happy with the great gig you already have? Plus, it rarely seems to end well. For every Justin Timberlake or Dwayne Johnson, there's a dozen awful ideas like Michael Jordan, baseball player. Or Ethan Hawke, author. Or Britney Spears, actress. Or Eddie Murphy, singer. Or Paris Hilton, actress and singer. Or...well, you get the point.
As such, when Chris Cooley announced that he was going to give filmmaking a shot by executive producing an independent horror film, my immediate reaction was, "Really, Roger Corman Jr.? This can't wait at least until after the Redskins win a Super Bowl?" But following the film's progress on his blog and on pre-sports talk WJFK, at least it appeared as though Cooley was really into it, and not just a guy with too much time, money, and ego on his hands. So when I went to the screening of the film on the final day of the D.C. Independent Film Festival, I wasn't sure what to expect.
Ultimately, though? Pretty damn good. It's not a perfect film by any means, and the ending is a bit of a mess. But overall, it's one of the best, most original ghost stories I've seen in a long time. Certainly better than last year's overly-hyped entry in the genre.
Phillip Roebuck plays Brett Wilson, the host of a Ghost Hunters-type TV show, who's still grieving the deaths of his wife and their unborn child. He's decided to quit the show, when he gets a phone call from Travis, a man claiming to have seen the ghost of Brett's wife. So Brett and his film crew, along with a professional debunker trying to prove the show's a fraud, head to Travis's home for the show's final episode. At which point Travis pulls out a gun, tells Brett he'll contact him from the other side to prove that in fact, ghosts do exist, and shoots himself in the head.
As far as plots go, that's pretty kick-ass. It helps that the film is surprisingly well-acted. I'm not going to say that it's the most polished acting (some of the pauses in between lines of dialogue seemed to go on forever), but given the level of talent you usually see in low-budget films, horror films, and especially, low-budget horror films, I was impressed. Roebuck is outstanding, Josh Davidson's debunker character entertainingly goes back and forth between likable and smarmy, and Devon Marie Burt and Frederick Cowie do a pretty good job with what are essentially just stock horror movie roles. There's also all kinds of fun to be had seeing local celebrity cameos like Lindsay Czarniak, Mike O'Meara, Todd Yoder, and Cooley himself.
And for the first 2/3s of the film or so, writer/director Eric Espejo takes all that and runs with it, maintaining a nice, creepy atmosphere as Brett and his team investigate the house and its undead inhabitants. But it's at that 2/3s mark that the film started to lose me, as we find out that things may not be quite what they seem. Which is then followed by an ending that's all over the place, including a weak twist seemingly thrown in just for the sake of having a twist, and a finish that, to call it overly-sappy, would be an understatement.
But while it has its flaws, Ghosts Don't Exist is a pretty solid ghost story and an impressive debut feature for Espejo. Plus, you get to see Lindsay Czarniak on a really big screen. If that alone doesn't warrant Oscar consideration, I don't know what does.
Seriously, though, Cooley: Get to work on that Super Bowl.