New Releases: Ghost (2020) - Reviewed

Tony Ward (Anthony Mark Streeter) has made some mistakes in his life.  After serving ten years in a UK prison for his criminal past, he is released and attempts to rekindle some semblance of a relationship with his teenage son Conor (Nathan Hamilton), all the while having to come face to face again with some seedy characters from his violent history as a con artist.  Will Tony be able to escape his past and gain reconciliation from his estranged family?  The contemplative drama Ghost answers that question for us in a surprisingly subdued exploration of toxic masculinity.

The most standout aspect of Ghost is the fact that it was shot entirely on two iPhones.  Taking this into consideration, the film is an impressive feat: the shots are carefully crafted, often using a gimbal to smooth the phone’s motion in tracking shots.  There are occasionally times where the image is overexposed from the natural light utilized in exterior shots, but overall, the film is a successful, inspiring display of guerilla-style film-making by director Anthony Z. James.

Despite its technical achievements, Ghost fails to impress in most other realms.  It crawls along at a snail’s pace and does not manage to immerse the viewer in the tale it is trying to tell.  While it does a superb job of nonverbal storytelling (there is no dialogue for nearly the first ten minutes of the film), the scenes that use dialogue are painfully drawn out.  Long pauses overstay their welcome between every other line delivered between the main characters, and rather than give a sense of naturalism, this quickly become tedious.  There is also a sense that these excessive pauses were intended to help fill in the standard 90-minute running time, which is disappointing if that’s the case.

In addition to the dialogue exchanges feeling largely vacuous throughout Ghost, the plot itself feels doubly so.  For a movie about someone that used to be a hardened criminal, not much happens until the climax, and even then, it is established with a clunky buildup.  There are occasional scenes were we get glimpses into Tony’s sordid past that help keep the audience from dozing off, but they are so restrained that they give the audience little reason to care about what is happening in that moment or about his overall attempt at redemption.  There is a side plot introduced about Conor’s girlfriend getting pregnant to add a bit of complexity to this fairly simple story, but it also misses its mark and feels entirely unengaging.  

Ghost’s attempts at realism are essentially its own undoing.  There are ways to shoot films that convey naturalism but also keep the viewer interested, and they mostly didn’t happen here.  It was too straightforward and unclever about its choices.  While the main actors do an excellent job at depicting their roles and there is a poignant message underneath all the drudgery, the directing and screenplay failed it.  Ghost could have potentially been a powerful short film, but there’s simply not enough there to make this feature-length languid drama worth a watch.    

--Andrea Riley