Those familiar with director Pascal Laugier’s most infamous work, the savage and extreme Martyrs (2008), won’t be surprised that his latest exploration of human suffering is equally as bleak and cruel, if directionless and without the artistic verve attached to his earlier work.
Pauline (Mylene Farmer) and her daughters, Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) are moving into a large, strange house in the country that Pauline has inherited from her recluse aunt. The dusty house is riddled with dolls, odd antiques, secret doors, and broken junk. It’s worst case scenario for angsty Vera, but a haven of inspiration for aspiring horror writer Beth. Within hours of moving in, the family is brutally attacked by a sadistic pair of intruders who won’t be satisfied with quick kills, but rather seek prolonged torture as a means to fulfill their twisted fantasies.
This film has a few things going for it, namely the atmosphere, achieved by a detailed production value and expert camerawork. There’s a great sense of disorientation inside the house, a tactic that subconsciously unsettles the viewer even before the home invaders arrive. Because the film is so visceral in technique, the violence hits on a shocking, deep level. But where that violence is necessary for effect in Martyrs, it’s cheap and untoward here, bordering on schlock.
These characters endure a great deal of violence, but there’s no real point to it other than to remind the viewer that vicious, cruel acts occur to innocents everyday, and that physical trauma often begets psychological damage. This is not a particularly new or intriguing angle, and since the film isn’t working towards a broader meditation on senseless violence, the ferocity isn’t earned. The story feels hollow, the nastiness occurring just for the sake of nastiness, and that by consequence raises the question of misogyny.
Unfortunately, there’s also a problematic dash of transphobia involved in Ghostland that can’t be ignored either. One of the attackers, the Candy Truck Woman (Kevin Powers) is presented to us as being terrifying simply for how she looks, which is quite stereotypical for a trans woman. There’s no inherent problem in having a trans woman be one of your villains, but the villainy and scare factor should come from something more than their trans identity. It’s an old, tired trope in horror and by this point filmmakers should be beyond relying on such an outdated gimmick to elicit fear.
Flaws aside–if you’re able to put them there, of course–Incident in a Ghostland is still a technically polished film, perfect for fans of shock horror and realistic violence. It’s not quite that French New Wave extreme horror that Laugier first trafficked in, but it’s a close, diluted cousin, with more than enough to make you squirm. The problem is that it’s not the fun kind of squirming. Nor even the reflective kind. It’s just exploitative.
Incident in a Ghostland
5 – Totally Terrifying 4 – Crazy Creepy
- 3 – Fairly Frightening
2 – Slightly Scary 1 – Hardly Horror