Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Ghosts of the Ozarks

Crude dictators directly instill fear in their subjects with their own brutality. The more subtly power-hungry try to harness an external fear to their own controlling advantage. The question is what fears do they cynically stoke? Some might point to terrorism or Covid (Glenn Greenwald would say both). In this case it is the monstrous ghosts that prey on the unwary outside the walls of a Reconstruction-era Arkansas town that help the boss keep everyone in-line throughout Matt Glass & Jordan Wayne Long’s Ghosts of the Ozarks, which releases on-demand and in select theaters this Thursday.

Dr. James McCune looks like a respectable medical professional, but he was deeply scarred by the Civil War—literally. Believing he lacks a place in the world, he accepts his Uncle Matthew’s invitation to replace his town’s doctor. Frankly, he barely makes to town alive, following a bizarre encounter with a monstrous shrouded figure. Once safe inside the protective walls, McCune finds his uncle serves as an unofficial mayor (and then some), whose words are followed without question, because he knows how to protect everyone from the ghosts.

Dr. McCune starts settling in to extent, thanks to the medical assistance and friendship of Annie, a healer who boldly lives outside the walls with her hulking brother William. He also finds some hospitality with the blind barkeep Torb and his wife Lucille. However, the whole thing about the monster-like “ghosts” understandably unsettles Doc McCune, who also starts to notice other suspicious activity around town.

The word for
Ozarks is “weird,” starting with its bizarre portrayal Reconstruction-era characters and the unnamed border-state village. Initially, it also certainly seems to fall under the category of “Weird West,” but it weirdly gets less weird in the third act.

Regardless, there is some pretty creepy and inventive art and set design work going on. There is definitely some cool looking stuff in the film, which nicely serves its genre-straddling program. It also features some interesting performances, especially Tim Blake Nelson as the blind and emotionally damaged Torb. Angela Bettis (from Brea Grant’s
12-Hour Shift, which also involved Glass and Long) compliments him well as his world-weary wife.

Thomas Hobson is pretty solid as Dr. McCune, but this is the sort of film where the supporting characters are necessarily more memorably colorful.
Star Trek franchise veteran Phil Morris makes an impressively steely villain as Uncle McCune, while Joseph Ruud is big and imposing, but he also projects a lot of humanity as silent William. Plus, David Arquette clearly enjoys chewing the scenery as Douglas, the town’s weaselly dry goods merchant.

Genre fans might have some misgivings over a few plot turns, or possibly be amused by them, but it is one of the more entertaining Weird West movies since
Blood Moon (an all-time guilty pleasure). It is well crafted and the supporting ensemble is first-rate. Earning a moderate recommendation for fans of the relevant genres and subgenres, Ghosts of the Ozarks releases Thursday (2/3) on-demand and in theaters.