GHOSTS OF WAR (2020) offers a neat premise for a horror movie: five Allied soldiers in occupied France in 1944 are deployed to a huge mansion once home to the Nazis, and their mission is to watch over it until reinforcements arrive. Easy peasy, right? Not so fast! Because this place is haunted!
The film also gets off to a strong start with a creepy opening sequence featuring the soldiers sleeping in the woods, as one soldier awakes to spy an eerie countenance in the wooded wilderness. Yikes!
In GHOSTS OF WAR, five soldiers, Chris (Brenton Thwaites), Eugene (Skylar Astin), Tappert (Kyle Gallner), Kirk (Theo Rossi) and Butchie (Alan Ritchson), weary from battling Nazis in the French countryside, relish the mission of “house-sitting” an empty mansion for a few days. To them, it means sleeping in beds, access to food and beverages, and some much needed shelter from the unknown horrors awaiting them every day and night on their trek through the French back roads. They are rattled and on the verge of becoming unhinged. This mission has arrived at just the right time.
But their euphoria is short-lived, as they begin to see strange apparations and hear frightening sounds in the middle of the night. It doesn’t take them long to realize that the mansion is downright haunted!
As I said, GHOSTS OF WAR gets off to a creepy start with its effective opening scene, and then things continue, as the first half of this one is a solid mix of horrifying war violence combined with sinister spectral threats once the soldiers reach the mansion. It’s a winning combination.
I enjoyed the first half of this movie a lot. Everything works, and there’s not a slow or dull moment to be found. About halfway through, the soldiers finally make the realization that the mansion is haunted, and actually have a refreshing conversation about just what that means: is it being haunted by a group of people who died there, or is the place itself evil, attracting spirits and demons from all over?
At this point, they decide to come up with a plan as to how to proceed, and it’s here where the film slows down a bit, as their investigation into the house’s background simply isn’t as compelling as the relentless horrors thrown at us in the film’s first half.
Then things get worse. Sort of.
See, there’s a plot twist. Ah, the dreaded plot twist! As plot twists goes, this one is pretty damn good. The problem is, its execution is pretty damn bad! The scene which reveals the twist and sets the stage for the big “reveal” of the film, is terribly written and features rushed and pretty bad dialogue. It also features a concept that doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not in the way the film tries to explain it.
But then the film continues with its “reveal” and at long last we see why things happened the way they did. This part I liked, and it does make sense, if you can get past the silly explanation scene in the middle. In other words, the “how” this is all happening still needs work, and I didn’t completely buy it, but the “why” things happened, that part did work for me.
There’s also a strong clue of a plot twist early on in the movie, which at first I thought was an example of some pretty bad film research. One of the characters references seeing old horror movies in his childhood, and mentions some films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF which wasn’t released until 1957, years after World War II! But it turns out this wasn’t an error. Nuff said about that!
GHOSTS OF WAR was written and directed by Eric Bress, who wrote the first two FINAL DESTINATION movies and also wrote and directed THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (2004), so he’s no stranger to bizarre time shifts in stories. I enjoyed the pace of this one during its first half which I thought was pretty relentless. Bress sets up some eerie ghost scenes as well as some brutal war-related sequences.
The story and the writing is also strong for the most part, until it reaches its ludicrous idea to enable the plot twist. If you can get past that, you won’t mind GHOSTS OF WAR. And once you get past the sloppy transition, the final reveal is actually very good and quite haunting.
The cast is solid. Brenton Thwaites is excellent as lead character Chris, the person the audience will most relate to, as the story is largely seen through his eyes. Thwaites plays Dick Grayson on the TV show TITANS (2018-present).
Skylar Astin is also very good as Eugene, the one character who can read German which becomes useful when the soldiers discover a journal left in the house written in German.
Kyle Gallner fares the best as Tappert, the most unhinged character in the group. Tapper gets carried away when encountering Nazis. He would have felt right at home in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009).
Theo Rossi, who starred on the TV shows SONS OF ANARCHY (2008–2014) and LUKE CAGE (2016-2018) plays Kirk, and Alan Ritchson plays Butchie, rounding out the cast.
GHOSTS OF WAR is a decent horror movie which gets off to a riveting start before eventually becoming a mixed bag, due mostly to a sloppily conceived plot twist which fails to make a convincing transition to an otherwise chilling conclusion.
Books by Michael Arruda:
DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.
Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.
Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!