Review by Sean Boelman
While bad genre movies are more often than not simply excruciating, Eric Bress’s horror-tinged war picture Ghosts of War is so utterly ridiculous that one can’t help but revel in the absurdity. A woefully misguided misfire, but one that is nearly impossible to look away from, this will almost certainly go down as one of the year’s best terrible movies.
The film tells the story of a group of soldiers during WWII who are assigned to make camp at an abandoned château, only to discover that their post may be haunted. For the first hour or so, the movie plays out like a mediocre rip-off of other better World War II horror flicks, but an inexplicable and bizarre twist that comes heading into the third act is what makes the film so entertainingly stupid.
As is the case with so many high-concept horror movies like this, much of the script relies on the characters doing stupid things. The dialogue isn’t particularly well thought-out, the plot is full of contrivances, and events make very little sense as a whole. This is particularly the case in what has to be one of the dumbest endings of all time.
The visuals for the movie are also extremely disappointing. Even though a strong atmosphere hardly could have saved such a mediocre script, the lackluster production design and cheesy CGI effects do it no favors. As a whole, the film looks quite fake and it is almost impossible to be immersed in its world.
Admittedly, the character development is one of the movie’s most effective surprises, as it leans into the idea of brotherhood that serves as a central theme of the script. By spending more time on the dynamic between the characters rather than their separate personalities, the audience cares more about their holistic success as opposed to individual survival.
The cast pulls together character actors from a few other high-profile films, and they do a mostly solid job in their roles. Brenton Thwaites isn’t entirely convincing as the leader of the squad, though he has a compelling screen presence nonetheless. Skylar Astin is likely the biggest standout, though, as the sole actor we can take seriously in his role. Billy Zane makes an appearance that is confusing at best.
And while one can’t fault the movie for lack of trying, the commentary about atoning for one’s own sins is too little too late, causing it to tread territory that has mostly already been covered before. The idea of saving lost souls by correcting the wrongs committed against them is a worn cliche at this point, and it’s time for the genre to find a new method of driving narrative momentum.
Ghosts of War takes itself so seriously despite a premise that is silly beyond belief. Still, thanks to the filmmaker’s commitment to telling the story with a straight face, it manages to be an enjoyable mess.
Ghosts of War is now available on VOD.