Synopsis – Follows five battle-hardened American soldiers assigned to hold a French Chateau near the end of World War II. Formerly occupied by the Nazi high command, this unexpected respite quickly descends into madness when they encounter a supernatural enemy far more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield.
My Take – If there is one thing that 2018’s Julius Avery-directed and J.J. Abrams-produced World War II film, Overlord, taught us, it is that World War II makes for a pretty solid background for a horror film set up.
And at first glance, Eric Bress, known for co-writing and co-directing The Butterfly Effect, and for writing the screenplays of the second and fourth entry in the Final Destination franchise, seems to be building further on that idea by setting a ghost story in the form of a typical haunted-mansion amidst the aforementioned set up.
While the film starts off rather excellently and even manages to get a few decent scares out of the time period, but then for some incomprehensible reason decides to plunges into a deep dive with an atrocious twist that completely ruins, well, everything.
In terms of both style, cast and story-line, the film actually had potential, but there is nothing to really warn you that this film is about to implode on itself, even though there is actually a very strange moment early on that should have been an initial warning.
To his credit, I do appreciate that director Bress did try and mix things up to stand out, unfortunately for him the final product ends up feeling mostly lackluster, with its final act especially sucking the fun out of a very watchable haunted house film.
Set in 1944 Nazi-occupied France, the story follows a unit of American soldiers led by Lt. Goodson (Brenton Thwaites), and consisting of the bookish Eugene (Skylar Astin), all-brawn Butchie (Alan Ritchson), straight-arrow Kirk (Theo Rossi) and borderline-psychotic Tappert (Kyle Gallner), who are tasked with holding a private countryside residence recently utilized by German high command, until the next regiment comes by.
Considering everything they have been through, this assignment is practically a vacation, as the spectacular chateau is filled with plush beds and enough food and drinks for them to last weeks. However, their enthusiasm is quickly dampened when their first night turns out to be a restless one, as they are disturbed by phantom footsteps on the floors above and doors that open by themselves.
But when Eugene discovers a journal that reveals details about what happened to the original residents of the mansion, they realize that they are against an enemy far more terrifying than anything ever seen on the battlefield.
The set-up is neat, and for the first 30 minutes my expectations had shot up exponentially. Which is quickly followed up an extensive shootout between the soldiers and their faceless enemies that also included an extended scare sequence involving soldiers on both sides being tricked, haunted and lured into compromising positions by a quartet of angry spirits. It’s to director Bress’ credit that the sequence doesn’t completely collapse under its obvious lunacy.
The film also delivers on your familiar spooks with a mix of jump scares with items falling over, mysterious noises and voices, the sight of shadows, the sound of footsteps, and a bathtub maintaining the required atmosphere and intrigue to keep the audience engaged.
Sure, the film has its set of issues. Though the five brothers in arms portrayed by Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Kyle Gallner, Skylar Astin, and Alan Ritchson have a wonderful rapport, there is little to no character development given them. Making it really hard for us to care or root for their survival.
But nothing hits the film worse than its bone headed final act which throws every concern, every suggestive element of the setting, and every character motivation out with a ludicrous twist that is a tonal and thematic nightmare. Yes, there are hints of this misdirection: killing targets was too easy, and Billy Zane’s early appearance as a Nazi colonel was too short to justify itself.
Yet the answer to this riddle indicates not only the director’s grotesque overreach, but a rampant cruelty toward his audience and characters. On the whole, ‘Ghosts of War’ disappoints in blending thematic ambitions with a unique story resulting in a complete waste of potential.
Directed – Eric Bress
Rated – R
Run Time – 94 minutes