Director: Pascal Laugier
Screenplay: Pascal Laugier
Starring: Crystal Reed, Taylor Hickson, Emilia Jones, Mylene Farmer, Anastasia Phillips
Duration: 91 min
BBFC Certification: 15
Why would anyone want to move to an isolated country house filled with creepy antique dolls? Do characters in horror films not watch the genre themselves? French filmmaker Pascal Laugier’s second English film, Incident in a Ghostland takes this well used setting and rather than presenting a haunted house tale, crafts a much more original story of horror and brutality. Much like his earlier film, Martyrs, which took the torture porn genre to new levels of extremity but with an intellectual strand running through the narrative, his latest once again features two young women subjected to unspeakable abuses.
The film opens with single mother Pauline Keller (Mylene Farmer) driving her two teenage daughters to their new home, a country house inherited from an aunt. Beth (Emilia Jones) is particularly excited about the house, which is a gothic monstrosity full of creepy dolls and taxidermy, as this will be inspiration for her short stories that she writes in the vein of her idol, H.P. Lovecraft. However, her bratty sister, Vera (Taylor Hickson) is less enamoured with the house as her mother has moved her away from her boyfriend.
On the way, they encounter a mysterious ice cream van, but think nothing of it and when visiting a petrol station, Beth notices a newspaper article about intruders who take over houses, kill the parents and imprison and torture their daughters. Arriving at their new home, they are soon visited by some unwelcome guests who proceed to torment the family.
Managing to fight back and survive the ordeal, the film leaps forward several years where an adult Beth (Crystal Reed) has become a successful horror author, married with a young son. She starts to have nightmares about her ordeal and after receiving an anxious phone call from her sister, reluctantly returns to the old house where her mother and sister still live. Being greeted by her mother, she discovers Vera (Anastasia Phillips) is in deep mental distress insisting that she is still being attacked by unseen forces.
Laugier directs Incident in a Ghostland masterfully, achieving an atmosphere of anxiety and ramping up the tension to an almost unbearable level. The camera work makes remarkable use of lengthy single take scenes, the set design is constantly revealing previously unseen nooks and crevices of the house and the score sits effortlessly alongside the action switching from unnerving minimalist piano to booming ear shattering bass.
As with Martyrs, Laugier has designed Incident in a Ghostland as piece to disturb viewers, putting you through as intense a sensory ordeal as the characters physically go through. Unlike less talented filmmakers, he knows how far to push boundaries without overstepping the mark. For such a violent film, the gore is dialled back with some of the more unpleasant acts either implied or taking place off screen – special mention must go to the make up artists who manage to hint at the ordeal the characters have gone through by their facial injuries. Remakably, not once do you feel like the violence has been sensationalised or glamorised.
The film has a lot of doll imagery, but rarely uses them in the cliched jump scare manner of other films – I’m looking at you Annabelle! Porcelain dolls, which I’m sure Mrs Gammon would attest to are the creepiest, are in every room and nearly every shot. As well as the creep factor, Laugier uses them to mirror the teenage sisters’ innocence, which helps to increase the viewer’s uneasiness at one of the intruders’ uncomfortable obsession with the dolls.
Laugier has not created a masterpiece of horror here, but he is tantalisingly close. The perfect editing and wonderful cinematography manage to give a sense of dread throughout the entire film, even in the quieter, sedate moments. He has also managed to coax wonderfully unnerving performances from all of the cast. My only criticism would be that the villains of the piece are cartoonish ciphers that would fit better in a Rob Zombie film. However, I have a theory about the film (which I won’t discuss here as too many spoilers), that may explain this away.
Incident in a Ghostland leads you to very dark places. It is a nasty, but intelligent film delivering brutal violence and psychological scares. The pacing and tension are ratcheted up to supersonic levels that leave you breathless. So much so, that at the end of the film I felt like I had been holding my breath for the entire 91 minutes.
Incident in a Ghostland is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video. This review is of the Blu-ray which includes the below extras:
• Exclusive, newly produced interview with writer-director Pascal Laugier
• The Phantom Image – feature-length documentary taking a look behind the scenes of Incident in a Ghostland
• Interviews with actors Crystal Reed, Emilia Jones and director Pascal Laugier