A Ghost Waits review – beautiful, witty, funny, sad

August 24, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews
4

Summary

Adam Stovall’s debut film is a touching study of loneliness that had me smiling throughout. And there are some great little digs about spooks on film.

4

Summary

Adam Stovall’s debut film is a touching study of loneliness that had me smiling throughout. And there are some great little digs about spooks on film.

The opening of A Ghost Waits showed us a family running from their home with a ghost behind them looking pleased with herself. She’s dressed in black with a porcelain-pale face and deep eyes (a blend between The Corpse Bride and the ghost in A Woman in Black) and clearly well practiced in scaring people off. Then Jack (MacLeod Andrews) arrives, hired by the property company to clean up the place for the next occupants, and it seems the resident spook may have met her match. Or maybe she is a good match for Jack.

Adam Stovall directed and – with Matt Taylor – wrote A Ghost Waits, and did a frankly lovely, lovely job. It is an easy-going film (at least at first) which draws you into a world within one single house. It’s an interestingly timeless place, modern but with more books than tech, furniture that could have come from the eighties and swirly retro wallpaper. It could almost be located in any city and take place in any decade, giving it a vaguely dreamlike feel. It was filmed in black and white, which complements this mood perfectly: not a monochrome that makes A Ghost Waits look antique or restored, but rather one which simplifies our view and removes any potentially garish distractions, making it thoughtful and taking us naturally from the casual start towards the poignant meeting of minds.

Jack has a job to do, he’s going to stay there until it’s done, and he is the sort of practical man who finds satisfaction in doing a job well and giving it all his attention. So from when he arrives, the house is Jack’s world as well as ours… even more than it would usually be for one of his contracts, because his own neighborhood is currently being visited by exterminators, and he cannot get any mates to help him with short-notice crash space. He seems to be someone who is used to working on his own, and you get to wonder how long he has been without human contact: he talks to himself and takes a moment to realize when a voice he hears is not his own.

…Which brings me to Muriel (Natalie Walker), the eponymous ghost. Obviously, I don’t want to tell you too much about the story, but she has been there in the house for many, many years (the property guy asks Jack if he can figure out why people keep breaking their lease while he’s there) and her apparent “purpose” is to keep people out. She, too, has little contact with others – certainly little intelligent conversation – except for Ms. Henry (Amanda Miller) who manages her assignments, and an occasional colleague/rival such as Rosie (Sydney Vollmer). Both central characters are craving connections when they meet, and A Ghost Waits explores their contrasting forms of isolation from the world with humor, wit, and affection.

There’s most definitely a Beetlejuice model to the story here, but not in the style or mood at all. A Ghost Waits is not a glossy affair, though part of the fun of the film is a rivalry between Muriel and Rosie, who each think they know how to scare off the living more effectively. The writing here is very much pointing out the differences between “old fashioned” ghost story scares and big-budget noisy ones. I also relished the philosophical wit in all the questions Jack had for Muriel when he first accepts she’s “real”. Has she met any famous dead people? Can she tell him if there is a God? And most importantly (to him): why is she trying to scare him off?

It would be inaccurate to say that a lot of this film had me smiling: no, I was smiling from start to finish. I got to like the characters and I got to feel at home in their home (or was it their workplace?). Everything, as I mentioned before, was presented with affection; and when the layers of sadness and solitude were exposed, I still smiled, because I felt such sympathy towards them by then, and indeed saw strong sympathy between them. A Ghost Waits, perhaps to feel value in her purpose, or perhaps for someone to share it with.

The subtle score by horror fan Mitch Bain has been polished up and added since the film’s premiere at Glasgow Film Festival a few months ago. Music also adds some interesting human touches within the story, too: Jack likes to work to the radio, and plays guitar to wind down; and Muriel… no, I’ve spoiled enough.

Funny, this is the third year in a row that a festival film has shown me a man working on an empty house that turns out to be haunted. The Witch in the Window, Girl On The Third Floor and now A Ghost Waits all introduce us to very different men and very different ghosts: it’s fascinating to see how human conditions and issues can be presented with one simple scenario. This one is a perfect low-budget indie film, in which ideas and people are explored within an established model. And why not? A Ghost Waits works beautifully, and I look forward to watching it again.

This review was filed from FrightFest 2020. You can check our full coverage of the festival by clicking these words.


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