Friday, August 09, 2019

Festival of Cinema ’19: Ghost in the Graveyard

Basically, it is just another name for “Hide and Seek.” Whoever is “It,” is called the “ghost.” Sometimes, it really is played in a graveyard, but that sounds like a tremendously dangerous idea, whether or not you believe in the supernatural. Of course, spirits are decidedly real and apparently somewhat angry in Charlie Comparetto’s Ghost in the Graveyard, which screens tonight during the 2019 Festival of Cinema NYC (formerly the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema).

Sally Sullivan was not away at the loony bin for the last several months, but that does not stop the mean girls at her high school from circulating ugly rumors. Their malicious scandal mongering is able to take hold, because everyone knows how young Sullivan was present when her classmate Martha died accidentally, amid a game of ghost in the graveyard, in the graveyard. There might even be a kernel of truth in what they say, considering Sullivan regularly sees Martha’s ghost.

Rather awkwardly, Sullivan is not so eager to set the record straight, even though she loves her little girl and her father and big bro are totally supportive. As for her mom, she vanished years ago, quite mysteriously. The same happened to the father of her chief maligner, Zoe, who also happens to be her main rival for the romantic attention of long-haired, stoner-ish Reed. Maybe that will be the basis of an understanding between them, or maybe not. Regardless, Sullivan will need allies when she learns the full extent of the forces at darkness at work in the quaint town of Mt. Moriah (fyi, named after the presumed location of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac).

Ghost starts out as a micro tale of juvenile haunting, but quickly segues into a full-scale satanic conspiracy thriller that is surprisingly intriguing. The problem is Comparetto does not have the Kevin Williamson knack for writing teen characters and dialogue. As a result, a good deal of the first half sounds flat and phony. Nevertheless, he deserves credit for going all in when it comes to the archetypal good versus evil stuff.

Kelli Berglund gets by okay as Sullivan, but Olivia Larsen is much more fun as the catty Zoe. The other teens mostly just melt into the background, but the adults are more colorful. Jake Busey is surprisingly poignant as Sullivan’s father Charlie, who knows considerably more than he lets on. Maria Olsen bolsters the film’s genre cred with her creepy appearances as Zoe’s mother. However, it is Royce Johnson, as the Sheriff, who really puts a stamp on the film when he gets Medieval on the forces of darkness. Seriously, he is more than enough to compensate for any of Graveyard’s shortcomings.

Even William Peter Blatty probably would have approved of the way Comparetto presents the eternal struggle between goodness, virtue and light against darkness, fear, and bad vibes. Genre fans need to give it a little time, but its merits emerge down the stretch. Somewhat recommended for fans of the Omen franchise and its like, Ghost in the Graveyard screens tonight (8/9), as part of this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC.