Thursday, July 16, 2020

Ghosts of War: When War Really is Hell

It is a small French chateau rather than a Romanian castle, but this piece of real estate is not so different from the one in the Michael Mann’s The Keep (based on the F. Paul Wilson novel). Bad things happen there, but unfortunately, it will be American GIs occupying it (with great trepidation) in director-screenwriter Eric Bress’s Ghosts of War, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

After some really nasty fighting, a unit of five American soldiers is ordered to hold a French chateau that was formerly requisitioned by the National Socialist occupiers. It sounds like a cushy mission, since it comes with beds to sleep in, but the men they are relieving are suspiciously eager to leave. Yep, the place is haunted—apparently by the original owners, the Helwig family, who sheltered local Jews. Presumably, the spirits of the Helwigs want their new guests to continue taking the fight to the German, at any and all costs.

Except, there is more to the story. Hello, big twist. Yet, ironically, the film starts to crater once Bress springs his shocking revelation. Up until then, the film is maybe not stunningly original, but it is a rather tense and effective exercise in historical haunted horror. The American GIs are definitely on the rough side of
The Dirty Dozen, but viewers can still sympathize with them (especially when we see the really crazy one making kind gestures towards liberated concentration camp prisoners). However, when the film starts showing off its game-changing secret, it also turns against the U.S. military.

Bress’s last directorial turn was
The Butterfly Effect from back in 2004 and you can find some thematic affinities between Ghosts and that film down the stretch. Nevertheless, he really should have kept it simpler. The claustrophobic first and second acts work, but all accrued good will eventually goes out the window.

Unfortunately, that means a terrific performance from Kyle as the twitchy Tappert comes in a misconceived effort. Credit is still due, because he is electric on-screen, wigging out and killing Germans. Skylar Astin also provides a compulsively watchable counter-point as his bookish, Yossarian-esque comrade-in-arms.

This is a frustrating film to watch and even more difficult to review. It really satisfies as a boots-on-the-ground horror movie, until suddenly it doesn’t. Not recommended, despite early hopes and promise,
Ghosts of War releases tomorrow (7/17) on VOD platforms.