Ghosts of War (2020)

*. Another gift of low expectations! I had heard nothing at all about Ghosts of War going into it, but figured it was probably pretty bad. It is, however, a suitably entertaining dog’s breakfast of a movie, with a bit of something in it for fans of psychological thrillers, horror, and SF. Critics dumped on it and it didn’t find much of an audience, but I found it to be a better than average time-killer.
*. The set-up: during the Second World War a squad of American soldiers in France find themselves custodians of a French chateau formerly occupied by Nazi bigwigs. Historically, this made no sense to me. Were they operating behind enemy lines? Why were they on their own? Well, press pause on all of that. Before things are over you’ll be wondering about a lot more than historical accuracy.
*. It turns out the chateau is haunted by the family of the owners, who had been killed by the Nazis. This led to more questions, some of which are articulated by the squad leader: “What the hell does haunted even mean? Does that mean specific people have ghosts that are somehow anchored to the places they died, or is it places where evil has occurred that makes a portal to demonic forces? Or is evil simply a man-made concept in the first place?”  Hmmm.
*. In any event, this part of the movie plays the way I thought it would: as a mash-up of The Conjuring with Call of Duty. But there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure it’s your standard haunted-house story, with lots of things going bump in the night and some very generic-looking ghosts. You know, the type that like to pop up out of nowhere screaming or saying Boo! with their mouths dripping ichor. But I thought director Eric Bress played it well. And then some Germans show up to crash the party. All well and good. But hold on to your hats because the final act enters strange territory. Which is also spoiler alert territory, if you don’t want to go any further.

*. Well, as things turn out the squad are actually American soldiers who, in some near-future war in Afghanistan, are blown up after failing to protect a family from ISIS fighters. That family then put a curse on the soldiers. The squad are then medevacked to a spiffy hospital where their dismembered bodies are kept on life support while they are entertained by a virtual reality program that has them playing soldiers in World War II France. Only there’s a ghost, or a family of ghosts, in the machine. The curse has infected the virtual-reality program, which leads to the squad being stuck replaying the haunted house scenario we’ve just been watching.
*. So there’s a lot going on here. You can pick up clues as things go along, like the references to Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” And if you know Bress’s previous work (2004’s The Butterfly Effect, or 2009’s The Final Destination) you might be even more on guard. But it’s still quite a twist they throw at the end. Does it make sense? Well, of course not. But given that premise, how could it?
*. I was also a little confused about how we were supposed to view the soldiers. Our first impression is that they are a gang of brutal jerks, except maybe the leader and the guy with glasses (the latter, naturally, being the one who both knows German and how to play the piano). But then at the end they become more sympathetic figures, since in killing Germans they’ve only been playing a video game anyway, and the Afghan curse seems a bit unfair.
*. Today’s horror films have at least given me a greater familiarity with the landscape of Eastern Europe. As I was watching this one I scribbled down the location as being either Hungary or Romania. In fact it was Bulgaria. Hey, I was close.
*. Possibly, just possibly, Bress is trying to say something about PTSD, or the moral equivalence between Nazis and ISIS, but if so that’s a message that’s soon lost. I mean, he may have been trying to say something about theoretical physics too, but I doubt it.
*. The final scene is ambiguous. Either the squad are going to be stuck in an endless loop or somehow the leader is going to get them off the hook somehow. It’s open-ended, which is something a lot of people don’t like but I don’t know how they could have wrapped things up any better.
*. So hardly a classic, but still something silly to have fun with. It’s a movie I’d rate a lot higher than blockbuster crap like The Nun, which is what it sort of reminded me of. The Nun was filmed in Romania.

23 thoughts on “Ghosts of War (2020)

    1. Alex Good

      It’s a bit like Overlord in the sense of WW2 meets up with today’s horror tropes. But it goes in a weird direction. I actually got a kick out of it, but reviews (both critical and audience reviews) weren’t very kind. Low expectations always help!

      Reply
  1. tensecondsfromnow

    I just watched Castle Keep last week, surely that’s a jumping off point here? Soldiers out of time in a French Chateau? Do they have it at the local library? Who is damaging the discs?

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      The Keep (1983)? Some similarities, but this puts an SF spin on it. Doesn’t work out entirely, but I thought it was neat. Again, if you’re not expecting too much.

      Reply
      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Sigh,. Castle Keep. Sydney Pollack. Burt Lancaster. 1969. Soldiers out of time in a French Chateau; “I think we’re fighting in the wrong war’. Sci-fi spin already applied.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        OK, looked it up. The eternal recurrence idea may have been some inspiration for this. But Castle Keep sounds like a really bad movie.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        I think ignaroance about sums up your cinematic opinions. It seems that your lack of knowledge of actual proper films is letting the air out of your balloon-like noggin.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        I really need to start charging you tuition for reading this site. You must be learning a lot more here than you did in your time — what was it? eight years? — at Glasgow U.

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        It depends, I went back to lecture the students as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, success story to emerge from the cloisters. No easy feat to get a distiction in my day, but I managed it!

        So the names Burt Lancaster or Sydney Pollack don’t mean much to you, but you do have time for The Ghastly Ones and Charlie Chan’s Racist Laundrette Advemture?

      6. tensecondsfromnow

        There are pictures involved, but you actually have to have a knowledge of your subject, something that you patently lack. Sunshine.

        Ever get called back to your alma mater, back to under the septic tank ruled over by cannibal mutants?

    2. Alex Good

      Also: I don’t know who is damaging the discs but it’s getting me riled. The last two DVDs I borrowed had sections that were unplayable. I don’t know what people do with these things. Maybe hang them from trees to scare away birds.

      Reply
      1. tensecondsfromnow

        Once ypu put in the request, I microwave the discs, then tape them to the soles of my boots and walk up and down a gravel path before they are ready for you to watch.

    1. Alex Good

      The weirdness is the point, so if that’s not your thing it’s to be avoided. It wants to go over the top a bit. I liked it better than some other psycho-headscratchers though. Like Shutter Island say.

      Reply

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