Wednesday, February 07, 2024


As someone who has worked in the book publishing industry, believe it when I say most people would be surprised how many books are actually written by ghostwriters. Usually the ghostwriters are still living. It is the ostensive authors who are dead, like V.C. Andrews and Robert Ludlum. The relationship gets reversed when a possible ghost starts writing a struggling novelist’s latest book in director-screenwriter Thomas Matthews’ Ghostwritten, which releases this Friday on demand.

Guy Laury wrote one well-regarded and modestly successful autobiographical first novel, but the words just will not come for his follow-up. His exasperated publisher arranged a residency for him in a Nantucket-like island, over the winter off-season. Staying at his publisher’s house, Laury uncovers a strange manuscript under the floor boards that happens to be far better than anything he has recently written.

It appears, through flashbacks, this novel-in-progress was a collaboration between the island’s year-round literary celebrity resident, Martin Cline and his girlfriend, while Cline was doing the very same residency as Laury. Initially, Laury has no intention of plagiarizing the mystery pages, but they inexplicably start appearing on his laptop. Laury suspects it is the work of the ghost-like entity he seems to be seeing. His suspicion of the supernatural is reinforced by the only two townsfolk who talk to him, the unnamed bartender and prop-pilot who flew him in and Julie Coffin, the local librarian and folklorist.

is shrewder than most films that think they know something about book publishing. Matthews either did his homework or fakes it convincingly. He also starts with a promising supernatural premise that he takes in an interesting direction. However, mainstream horror fans should be warned that Ghostwritten is easily the most experimental horror film since Mark Jenkins’ Enys Men. Ghostwritten is somewhat more accessible, but it is definitely style-heavy.

Matthews extensively experiments with sound, incorporating weird soundscapes and seemingly unrelated but still significant audio tracks. There are also extensive flashbacks, but they are often “untrustworthy.” Honestly, it gets to be a little too much, but Matthews’ ambition is impressive. In fact,
Ghostwritten heralds him as a filmmaker to watch, because if he tries something similar with his next film, but dials it down a notch or two, it could really be something.

The small ensemble is also quite well-suited to the more challenging genre material. Kate Lyn Sheil (who appeared in several of Joe Swanberg’s horror or horror-ish projects) is aptly cryptic as the pilot-bartender and Maria Dizzia is a realistically smart and grounding presence as Coffin. Throughout it all, Jay Duplass is wildly neurotic and unstable in a hard to pin down but effective kind of way.

is not for everyone, but if you see a lot of horror films and appreciate someone taking the less-trodden path, it is worth giving it a shot. Recommended for the adventurous, Ghostwritten releases Friday (2/9) on demand.