Incident In A Ghostland‘s title card utilizes a font not seen since the National Treasure franchise. Its tagline, “True evil never dies,” and accompanying marketing material seem to suggest a psychological, likely even paranormal thriller in the vein of Insidious or The Pact. Unfortunately, the movie’s true horrors are all too real, and visited exclusively on women.
A trio of females is uncomfortably at its heart: a mother and her two stock character daughters, one of whom doesn’t want to move away from her boyfriend and gives the finger to passing drivers, and the other who writes and broods and is constantly referred to as a freak. The whole “my sibling is such a LOSER” trope is totally played out, of course, but sadly it’s probably the least offensive element of this whole mess.
The main kid, Beth (played by English actress Emilia Jones in her youth, and Gotham‘s Crystal Reed as an adult), is a wannabe horror author. However, when her older sister describes their new place as “Rob Zombie’s house,” she barely reacts — why would a kid who’s obsessed with horror, any type of horror, not be excited to live in this house of 1000 corpses? It’s almost like her character hasn’t been properly developed beyond “weird kid.”
This fleeting reference is about as self aware as the film gets. It quickly, almost instantaneously, devolves into meaningless, soul-destroying torture porn of the most misogynistic, disgusting variety. The first indication this dross was conceived entirely by men? Beth gets her first period so heavily she bleeds through her jeans. Have they ever actually met any woman ever? First periods aren’t, like, the elevator doors opening in The Shining. Get a grip.
Incident In A Ghostland‘s primary function is the torture and humiliation of women, whom it treats as bizarre, irrational creatures with zero cognitive functions that scream constantly. A brief sojourn into the future, where happiness awaits, is quickly interrupted by a sibling in loud, often unclothed agony. The all-female family is not allowed to rest or recover for long enough for us to register that they’re in anything but constant distress throughout.
Add to this the fact they look beaten up the entire time, their swollen eyes and cuts never quite healing (there was actually an injury on set, leading to facial scarring, which makes the blasted thing even more unsettling in retrospect). There are a couple of fake-outs, in relation to their recovery, that are so unbelievably cruel they almost bear spoiling here, so that viewers can better prepare themselves for the ghastliness of what’s to come.
Not that it matters when the material is this abhorrent, but Incident In A Ghostland isn’t in the least bit scary either. I mean, it’s scary how much its creators hate women, but as a horror film it’s a complete dud. The frights involve characters sticking their heads in things they shouldn’t be sticking their heads in, or the villains appearing from around corners. The same jump scares are used over and over, beating us into submission alongside the characters.
The two assailants are problematic in the extreme. One of them, the reveal of whose appearance is played for shock, seems to be a trans character. However, this person is referred to first as a she and later as one of the “two dudes” who held the family hostage. The actor, Kevin Power, is billed as “Candy Truck Woman,” but Power himself is treated as male in all official materials related to him.
Is his character a man in drag? Is he supposed to pass as female? What exactly is the intention here? Are we supposed to just be disgusted by the very idea of cross-dressing? The problem is that blatant and thoughtless transphobia such as this, which sees a physically male actor trotted out in drag and shown applying makeup while characters gawk in horror at him, pushes an ignorant and hurtful agenda against an entire community.
His partner, a great lumbering oaf who wouldn’t have made it as an extra in the Hills Have Eyes remake, sniffs ladies’ private parts, just to drive the point home that these are some sick motherfuckers.
Incident In A Ghostland is vile. Its female characters are in pain and suffering for virtually the entire time they’re onscreen. There’s no catharsis whatsoever, no sense of relief, even when the film ends. Watching it is uncomfortable not because it’s scary (it isn’t) but because of how horrifying it is to put oneself in the position of hating women this much.
The flick will no doubt go down a treat with lunatic MRAs. It would make a fine companion piece to Cassie Jaye’s widely discredited documentary on the subculture, in fact, just in case any dudes watching it wished to fulfill their darkest fantasies afterwards. Make no mistake; the whole purpose of this movie is “watch these bitches getting hit for two hours.”
There’s some weirdness with treating women like literal dolls, too, which writer-director Pascal Lugier (Martyrs, The Tall Man) clearly thinks is much smarter and more shocking than it actually is. Any woman living in the world today won’t be surprised to learn we’re seen as objects to men. There’s no need to gussy us up and put us on your laps. We get it.
Subtlety is not Incident In A Ghostland‘s main concern, of course. It features a writer chewing on her glasses in concentration, something no real human being has ever done but that filmmakers seem to assume happens often enough it must be represented onscreen. On a similar note, the cover of the titular tome looks so similar to a Dennis Lehane novel he might actually take offence.
In a year that’s given us the gloriously genre-defining, female-conceived rape revenge movie Revenge, Incident In A Ghostland feels especially ill-advised and disappointing. Hell, Unfriended: Dark Web showcased how to handle the rampant and widespread abuse of women in a smart way without being titillating or voyeuristic, while simultaneously commenting on and condemning that same abuse.
The whole world is moving on. Time’s fucking up. Maybe someone should tell Pascal Laugier. After all, Martyrs, his breakout flick, was released ten years ago. Hasn’t he got anything new to say?
WICKED RATING: 2/10
Director(s): Pascal Lugier
Writer(s): Pascal Lugier
Stars: Crystal Reed, Emilia Jones, Mylène Farmer, Kevin Power
Release date: June 22, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: 5656 Films
Length: 91 minutes
Sub-Genre: Torture porn