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Friday, July 17, 2020

[Review] ‘The Butterfly Effect’ Director’s ‘Ghosts of War’ Confounds With Generic WWII Haunter

It’s been a little over a decade since Eric Bress last turned in a horror screenplay, the pleasantly surprising The Final Destination, and over fifteen years since he was in the director’s seat with The Butterfly Effect. Up to this point, his limited filmography is exemplary of quality over quantity, which means that all signs of his latest effort point to another solid effort. Instead, Ghosts of War is a generic period action horror film that spends way too much time on the overly familiar trappings of haunted house fare.

Written and directed by Bress, the film follows five American soldiers on assignment to hold down a mansion in the French countryside during World War II. Once there, they discover that it’s not Nazis that’ll make their job dangerous, but a supernatural presence that threatens to drive them all to madness.

Despite a notable cast that includes Brenton Thwaites (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy), Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body), Skylar Astin, Alan Ritchson, and Billy Zane, it becomes evident within the opening scene that these actors will be doomed to play stock characters. The fivesome come upon a group of Nazis and quickly dispatch them. Ritchson’s Butchie shows off his pugilistic American boy persona as he challenges the remaining Nazi to a boxing match; a Nazi (Zane) with the worst German accent. Astin’s Eugene becomes the default intellectual, which comes in handy when they reach the house; look for him to deliver all exposition thanks to a convenient diary. Gallner fares the best as Tappert, the troubled sniper, and the rest fade into indistinguishable generic characters. There’s no character development, and the names indicate the only defining traits these boys seem to possess. Among the actors, it seems only Gallner is trying to do anything with the paper-thin role he’s been given. He doesn’t always succeed, but you can at least count on him to make interesting choices.

The French Chateau makes for a nice change of pace from supernatural World War II movies that often take place at outposts or in the trenches, but it’s wasted with generic scares and standard black-eyed, long mouthed apparitions. Baffling tonal shifts exacerbate these moments of trope horror. In one scene, Eugene and Tappert move an armoire across a floor painted with an occult sigil that results in Eugene’s hand getting mangled. The very next scene shows him calmly reading from the diary to the group as if nothing had ever happened. At one point, it’s suggested that Tappert might be on the verge of a violent breakdown, and that, too, is just as quickly disposed before the movie darts to another nonspecific plot idea.

There are definite hints throughout that there’s much more here than meets the eye, like the radio relaying scrambled yet ominous messages or items that contradict the setting. In the middle of a monologue, Tappert reveals to a fellow soldier that he’s a horror fan raised on films like I Was a Teenage Werewolf – a movie released over a decade after WWII ended. However, this particular small detail makes it unclear whether it’s part of Bress’s masterplan or just sloppy writing. It is clear, though, that Bress is trying to build to something bigger than a conventional haunting.

Bress crafts a by the numbers haunted house story that could be set at any place or time, making the WWII setting come across exploitative. By the end, there’s a definite point as the film attempts to shock with a twist that you’ll see coming if you’ve been paying attention. With it, there’s a level of earnestness that feels wholly unearned and at odds with everything that preceded the “twist.” Ghosts of War ultimately offers an under baked examination of complicity and moral duplicity. It’s so blandly written and handled with the broadest and clumsiest of strokes, that there’s zero rooting interest. There are no chills or thrills to offset the mediocrity either. Ghosts of War is a series of confounding decisions, paper-thin storytelling, and frustrating recycled tropes that the actual victims of this film are the viewers.

Ghosts of War is releasing on VOD and Digital on July 17, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3623407/review-ghosts-war-confounds-generic-wwii-haunter/

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