Ghosts of War

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Ghosts of War
dir-scr Eric Bress
prd D Todd Shepherd, Shelley Madison, Joe Simpson
with Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Skylar Astin, Kyle Gallner, Alan Ritchson, Billy Zane, Shaun Toub, Laila Banki, Yanitsa Mihailova, Kaloyan Hristov, Matthew Reese, Shannon McKain
release US 17.Jul.20,
UK 24.Jul.20
20/UK 1h34

thwaites zane toub

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ritchson, rossi, astin, thwaites and gallner
Writer-director Eric Bress imaginatively mixes WWII action with a haunted-house freak-out, and has something else on his mind as well. The film is unflinchingly shot to pull the viewer into an unnerving situation, never shying from the nastiness. There are cheap scares and bonkers silliness along the way, and it never quite finds its resonance. But the tone is compelling, and the actors add terrific edges to their roles.
In 1944, sensitive young soldier Chris (Thwaites) is in Nazi-occupied France with four comrades: no-nonsense Kirk (Rossi), sardonic Eugene (Astin), thoughtful Tappert (Gallner) and muscle-hunk Butchie (Ritchson). Their mission is to hold an enormous chateau, but strange things begin happening immediately, starting with the inexplicable sound of footsteps upstairs. So it may not be a wise idea to sit around telling scary stories. Then at night, things get even more terrifying in their dreams. And after the ghosts seem to help them fight some passing Nazi soldiers, they begin to look deeper.
This luxurious palace contains plenty of ghoulish chills, like a massive doll house, creepy portraits and occult symbols in the attic. There are also tired cliches like music boxes that turn themselves on, candles that suddenly blow out and ominous messages: "If you leave, you die!" Meanwhile, Eugene finds a book about a time machine, as well as a journal documenting the unspeakable things the Germans did to the house's now-spectral residents (Toub, Banki, Mihailova and Hristov). And the Allies have dealt out their own share of horrors.

The five central characters are engaging, but never terribly deep. Still, each actor gets the chance to add some texture, having his own specific reactions to what happens. Thwaites is engaging at the centre, with his baby face, observant eyes and desire to help this murdered family of vengeful spirits. Gallner's Southern boy is an intriguing mix, both gung-ho and badly shaken. And Astin's bookish Eugene is the standout, taking a messy emotional journey of his own.

From time to time, Bress strains to ramp up the terror with loud noises or the emotion with swelling orchestration. But the subtle touches are the most effective, from nightmares and visions to the awful things they see in these desperate final days of the war. There are strong echoes in the script about military atrocities, which adds some weight to all the talk about curses. This leads to a big final-act twist that shifts the story and themes in a direction that's timely but vaguely ludicrous.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 17.Jul.20

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