Incident in a Ghostland
Directed by: Pascal Laugier
Run time: 91 minutes
The Lowdown: Ten years after making, arguably, one of the most beautiful and brutal horror films of the late 2000’s, writer-director Pascal Laugier has returned to remind fans that Martyrs was no fluke.
And, with Incident in a Ghostland, Laugier has delivered something that resonates unbelievably well on multiple levels. Much like Martyrs, Ghostland unspools as both a horrifying vision of what caged captivity might truly look like, as well as a provocative exploration of how the human mind protects the soul by creating an alternate reality well removed from the daily torment and pain that human beings can inflict upon one another.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Incident in a Ghostland is the story of Beth and Vera, two strong, independent young women being raised by their single mother, Pauline (Mylène Farmer). Beth (both as a teenager (Emilia Jones) and an adult ((Crystal Reed)) is an aspiring author who idolizes H.P. Lovecraft. Vera (as a teenager (Taylor Hickson) and an adult (Anastasia Phillips)) feels like a second fiddle, always taking the backseat to her sister’s talent and imagination.
Though they fight and bicker, they are blood and have an unbreakable bond.
As Ghostland opens, the trio is traveling to relocate to a home that belonged to Pauline’s distant relative, which she was left in a will. Laugier uses brief moments to tease what’s to come. A young Amish-looking boy comes running out of a cornfield as Pauline’s car speeds past. Seconds later, a beat-up food truck speeds past, slowing long enough to make Beth curious and uneasy. That same trucks shows up later, at a convenience store, as Pauline scans a newspaper headline: Family Killer Strikes Fifth Victim.
The inherited house is like a hoarder’s museum, packed with antique dolls, gilded frames and a tall, wonderfully unnerving variation on a Chinese Puzzle Box, which will play a pivotal role throughout.
“Oh, great,” Vera sighs, upon inspection, “we’ve inherited Rob Zombie’s house.”
Much like with Martyrs, Laugier wastes little time getting to the good stuff. Within 13 minutes of his opening frame, all hell breaks loose. The same creepy food truck parks outside Pauline’s family home, and we meet its occupants – The Ogre, a hulking man-child, and The Witch, a crossdresser who resembles Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The first blast of violence is startling and jarring, like the first decapitation in Alexandre Aja’s wonderful Haute Tension. Pauline transforms into a Momma Bear force of nature, going toe-to-toe commando against the Ogre and the Witch, until she emerges, bloodied and victorious.
And then – boom – Beth wakes up.
She’s now grown, married with a son, on the eve of releasing the book that will become her masterpiece, Incident in a Ghostland. Her phone rings, another call from Vera, who still lives in the same house with their mother, who cares for her after the violent home invasion caused a critical short-circuit in Vera’s brain.
Vera seems trapped in a loop from which she cannot escape. She keeps reliving the home invasion over and over, as if it were still happening. Pauline is weary but resigned to do everything she can for her oldest. Beth feels compelled to visit, against her mother’s wishes.
Immediately upon arriving back home, Beth can sense that something feels off. She sees things, momentary flickers, peripheral specters, that harken back to the first night she stepped inside the house. Vera speaks in guttural, disjointed sentences. She sees ghosts, and they inflict ungodly torture on her. Soon, Beth sees them too.
At right about the 50-minute mark, Laugier rips the rug out from under his audience once again. There’s a moment of confusion. You may wonder aloud, as I did, just what the hell is happening. But when it clicks, when you realize just what Laugier is up to, and what he has done so expertly up to that point, it’s revelatory.
To say more would be a disservice, both to you, the viewer, and Laugier, the artist.
Incident in a Ghostland is a monumental achievement that perfectly marries the relentless brutality and stomach-churning gore of classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or House of 1,000 Corpses with the transcendent, mind-screw euphoria of Donnie Darko or Triangle.
This is one we’re going to be talking about for years to come.
It sticks with you, like that sore spot where you slammed haphazardly into a door jamb just walking from one room to the next. The bruise eventually fades, but that pain, the deep, sharp throb of memory, never truly gets erased.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – The Witch and the Ogre.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Night of the Lepus (Shout! Factory, 88 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): Horror fans have seen a lot of man-versus-nature mayhem on the big-screen. The giant vermin chowing down on helpless locals in Food of the Gods. The giant ants mind-controlling Joan Collins in Empire of the Ants. From slugs and frogs to cockroaches and packs of vicious dogs, scary movies have mined pretty much every species imaginable to transform everyday animals into vicious threats. But bunny rabbits? Seriously? Night of the Lepus, which tells of giant, mutant rabbits terrorizing townsfolk in the dusty Southwest, boasts an incredible pedigree for its ridiculous plot. Tune in for the bloody wabbits, but stay to watch Janet Leigh (Psycho), DeForest Kelley (Star Trek) and Rory Calhoun (Motel Hell), among others, figure out how to survive.
Lionheart: 2-Disc Special Edition (MVD Visual, 105 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): In a story that could only have been conceived by the man himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lionheart is an action film that wobbles with uncertainty across a host of subplots.
Van Damme plays Lyon, a French Foreign Legion deserter, who travels to the U.S. to find his brother has been killed by a gang of vicious street thugs.
Along the way, he hooks up with Joshua (Harrison Page), a derelict con-artist who has an inside connection to an underground fight circuit where wealthy bidders put top dollar on who they think will prevail.
Lionheart is goofy and mindless, the kind of action movie that populated the multiplex back in the late 1980’s and early ‘90s. It’s not Van Damme’s best work, but he would go on to partner with Lionheart director Sheldon Lettich the following year for one of his better films, 1991’s Double Impact, which paved the way for a slew of twin-based action imitators over the years.
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