Jim (James Landry Hebert) and Julie (Scout Taylor-Compton) are a young couple on holiday in Thailand. After meeting some British guys they head off into the forest to explore a supposed ghost house. Julie experiences a disturbing vision of a burnt woman and becomes gravely ill. Abandoned by the British guys, Jim and Julie have to figure out what they’re experienced and how to stop the malevolent spirit from ruining their lives.
Where the film excels is in the production value and its ability to shock. Beautiful misty shots of rural Thailand create an atmosphere of dread that allows the moments of surprise to really land effectively. It also helps that the monster design is particularly gruesome, recalling the grotesques of cult films such as Mystics in Bali. There’s definitely a Sam Raimi influence which extends to moments of creepy body horror. The practical effects are all very convincing which further adds to peril of the film. There’s also some upsetting body contortion and excellent costumes to add flesh to the skeletal ghouls.
Other horror effects are undeniably cheesier. There’s a tendency to use flashes of light and screeching soundtrack stings to startle the audience. The movie is more effective in it’s quitter moments. A particular gag involving a digital camera had an enjoyable slow build. As with so many horror films, we climax with a noisy exorcism sequence that does much to dispel the uneasy mystery around the ghoul established early on.
Thailand itself is treated with an almost Orientalist approach. It’s a place of mystery and superstition that will largely be explored through our white protagonists. I recall Victorian horror stories of the mysteries of the orient. The Thai people tend to appear as sexy strippers, creepy old folk or witch doctors. A Thai side kick eventually joins the heroes but is offered little more than a role as the guide for the heroes through Thai customs. It’s unclear why he is helping the heroes or what the stakes are for him.
By far the most compelling performance of the film is delivered by Scout Taylor-Compton. She offers a very natural performance as the perpetually terrified young woman losing her mind in an unfamiliar place. It’s unfortunate that she spends much of the film incapacitated as her boyfriend fights for her sanity. A more personal journey of survival from Julie’s perspective may have made for a more rewarding experience, as well as potentially commenting on the innate fears of being unwell in a strange land.
Ghost House succeeds in offering well-constructed shock moments and a creepy atmosphere. It is just a shame that nothing new is brought to the familiar horror movie conventions.
2 / 5