Marrying the pains of wartime struggles with a genre-horror approach, The Butterfly Effect writer/director Eric Brees crafts a wholly unique beast with his latest vehicle Ghosts of War. While some of its impact may be lost in translation, Brees’ raw ambition offers a compelling thrill ride that stays one step ahead of its audience.
Ghosts of War follows a small American battalion (Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Kyle Gallner, Skylar Astin, and Alan Ritchson) tasked with holding an abandoned mansion on the French countryside. The barren house presents an unknown danger when paranormal entities confront the soldiers, with each meeting face-to-face with their past actions.
Similar to his debut effort, Eric Brees earns points for unabashedly committing to his genre-hybrid approach. His filmmaking identity is mostly felt through the narrative’s supernatural elements, crafting a sense of ominous dread from the opening frames. Whether it’s the lingering sound of each household creek or the opaque light bleeding through the window panes, Bress’ uses an array of techniques to build atmosphere while pushing his makeshift budget to its limits. Add in an intermixing of well-choreographed battle scenes, the horror and war elements are meshed relatively smoothly, with the script offering a thoughtful substantive throughline to render the concepts together. I really admire the go-for-broke attitude Brees brings to his work, continuing to reach for the stars with inventive ideas and lofty aspirations.
The Ghosts of War deserves credit for sincerely embracing its oft-kilter set-up. Brees’ screenplay pointedly criticizes the casual cruelty of war, with both sides violently taking their aggression out with a sense of showmanship and lack of empathy. These actions boil over to create a longing sense of regret for the characters, addressing the PTSD inflicted upon soldiers for their deadly actions. The cast does an admirable job of unearthing these pains, with Kyle Gallner standing out for his ability to convey the emotional weight behind his behavior.
Despite its good intentions, Ghosts of War can’t quite convey the full extent of its thematic agenda. While the film coherently binds its tonalities together, both the horror and war aspects are steeped in B-movie contrivances (the war scenes are accented with a conventionally triumphant score and inauthentically machismo dialogue, while the horror elements have your typical jump scares). It all builds to a third act twist that pulls the rug under the audience, offering a shake-up that will certainly surprise with the out-of-left-field path it takes. While I appreciate the creativity, the showy approach overshadows the quieter pains of its central message, with the narrative ultimately feeling too overstuffed for its own good.
Ghosts of War falls short of its inspired premise, but credit to writer/director Eric Brees for offering a uniquely brazen adventure that packs a plethora of gratifying moments.
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