There are numerous films that live and die on their endings. Matthew McConaughey’s Serenity was met with numerous head scratches and chin strokes about who could possibly think its digital dénouement worked. Given that McConaughey also starred in Sea of Trees, which also traded in logic for an ending that somehow managed to be both racist and confusing, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t finish off the hat-trick by appearing in Ghosts of War.
This film is the second feature from Eric Bress, coming 16 years after his debut, The Butterfly Effect. Also written by Bress, the film is ostensibly a World War II flick about a group of steel jawed, desensitised American soldiers sent out to the French countryside to maintain hold of a French manor, once commandeered by ze Nazis.
These good ol’ boys, played by Brenton Thwaites (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy), Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body) and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect), have been chewed up by war and spat right out again for being just too gosh darn tough. When they’re not trading stories about atrocities they’ve witnessed or taken part in, they’re torturing dying Nazis and forcing them to fight in hastily cobbled together boxing matches. There’s no glory in what they do and Bress clearly wants you to feel uncomfortable about the people he’ll later ask you to cheer on.
When the group arrive at their mission, they’re too busy squinting into the middle distance to notice that the battalion they’re taking over duties from seem real keen to get the heck out of Dodge. It’s only when the sun goes down that the soldiers realise that they might be somewhat in over their heads. Things go bump in the night, Morse code echoes in the chimney stacks and an unearthly presence appears to have hacked into their radio.
Unfortunately, all of this doesn’t really chill or thrill in the way Bress seems to want it to. The scares he dishes up are all too bombastic and reliant on jump scares. Ghosts of War would have to be your first horror film in order for any of this to seem fresh. Granted, there is a standout sequence where a group of national socialists try to reclaim the manor that works rather well. Otherwise, it’s the kind of CGI tedium you thought had stopped in the ‘90s.
As the men begin to doubt what they see and hear, Ghosts of War takes the viewer reluctantly by the hand towards a resolution that is, in all seriousness, hilarious. Having tackled PTSD, the sins of man and even the Holocaust, the film takes a turn that you couldn’t possibly be expecting. As a cameoing Billy Zane (Titanic) rocks up to help the soldiers make sense of the paranormal, Bress merely opens himself up to more questions – none of which can be asked here for fear of ruining it for the thrill seekers amongst you. What can be said is that Ghosts of War ends where a third act should really begin. Seemingly confident that there’s nothing more to be said, Bress appears to wipe his hands of the whole affair, leaving his audience to exclaim, “Hang on!”
Like the aforementioned films of McConaughey up above, Ghosts of War is film that will likely gain a cult following for all its flaws, and fair play to it. However, it really does need to be stipulated that, well, this is not a good film. You have been warned.
‘Ghosts of War’ is now available on DVD and Digital on Demand.