GHOSTS OF WAR (2020)
Directed by Eric Bress
Written by Eric Bress
Starring Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Kyle Gallner, Skylar Astin, Alan Ritchson, Laila Banki, Shannon McKain, Yanitsa Mihailova, Matthew Reese, Shaun Toub, Billy Zane
GHOSTS OF WAR sports a talented cast and a decent budget for effects and setting, but the story lacks much in originality.
A group of American soldiers take shelter in an abandoned French mansion towards the end of World War II and find themselves trapped inside with Nazis outside and ghosts tormenting them from within. But is that what’s really going on?
War horror is a difficult subgenre of horror to pull off. Almost every one of these films—JACOB’S LADDER, DOG SOLDIERS, THE OUTPOST, and most recently BLACK OPS (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) are allegories about the futility of war and the loss of innocence. Because there hasn’t been a gigantic hit in terms of war horror films, it seems the same themes are returned to and every one of them seem to believe they are the first or at least the best at telling the tale. GHOSTS OF WAR is a story about the way one war is interchangeable with another. The message is made abundantly clear in the final moments of the film, which will come as a shock to no one. Because subtlety is dead, one of the soldiers even says for no reason, “Hey, do you remember that old TWILIGHT ZONE episode called INCIDENT AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE?” even though the episode was made and released long after World War II was over. If you didn’t know what the shockeroo ending was going to be from that nuanced suggestion, I guess you might find the final moments to be surprising. To me, it simply soured what could have been a fun and simple ghosts vs. soldiers story.
The acting is better than average and the group gathered to play the young soldiers are actors you might not know the names of, but recognize from various movies. Brenton Thwaites (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES), Theo Rossi (SONS OF ANARCHY, LUKE CAGE), Kyle Gallner (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE), Skylar Astin (PITCH PERFECT), and Alan Ritchson (TITANS) all play their roles decently, but there are no huge thespian leaps required by the story. Billy Zane shows up a few times basically playing himself, but it’s still cool to see him for as brief as his role is.
I found the story of soldiers battling Nazis and ghosts to be a compelling one and I wish they would have just stuck with that. The scenes taking place in the haunted house are fun. I wasn’t shocked out of my socks, but the mood and some of the scenes work. It frustrates me that directors/writer Eric Bress felt the need to tack on an ending that really just knocks the wind out of the plot. It overcomplicated the movie for me. Maybe the director knew he had a capable, but bland film and thought the twist ending would spice it up. Unfortunately, it annoyed me more than anything else.
GHOSTS OF WAR looks good and the acting is better than your usual horror film, but it’s too bad the filmmaker didn’t have the faith in the story itself. The reliance on the twist left me walking away with a bad taste in my mouth.