Brenton Thwaites as Chris
Theo Rossi as Kirk
Skylar Astin as Eugene
Kyle Gallner as Tappert
Alan Ritchson as Butchie
Shaun Toub as Mr. Helwig
Billy Zane as Dr. Engel
Written and Directed by Eric Bress
Ghosts of War Review:
Despite being filled with potential for numerous horrific tales, World War II has very rarely been touched upon or utilized in the horror genre, maybe vaguely referenced in multiple but very rarely directly used and though Eric Bress’ Ghosts of War manages to get a few decent scares out of this time period, it still proves to be a mostly lackluster and unscary effort.
During the bleakest days of WW2, five battled-hardened soldiers are given a cake assignment; to hold down a Chateau in the French countryside formerly used by the Nazi high command. What begins as an unexpected respite quickly descends into madness when they encounter an enemy far more terrifying than anything seen on the battlefield. Cut off from contact with the outside world, Lieutenant Goodson and his men begin experiencing inexplicable events and are taunted by malevolent unseen forces. Something is occupying the house; an evil that will not let them leave alive.
Bress is not a bad filmmaker by any means, as he and J. Mackye Gruber proved in their directorial debuts The Butterfly Effect that they had plenty of style behind the camera and knew how to craft an emotional and twisty script, but in looking at the rest of his filmography, it becomes apparent that he can’t quite sustain without Gruber and Ghosts of War is one of the clearest examples. The story may not be the most original affair, but it offers what could have been a nice setup for either a simply fun haunted house ride or the twistier heights that it shoots for, but instead in trying to aim for both it mostly fails in the same manner.
The dialogue is a little rote and full of clichés for both the horror and war genres, with soldiers lamenting the atrocities they’ve committed and horrible things they’ve seen and reflecting on their childhoods growing up and the various spiritual and superstitious beliefs hey may or may not hold. The writing does also initially appear to be full of anachronisms and continuity errors, but as the film progresses these start to resolve themselves in intriguing fashion and offers up a few unique twists to the story that could’ve been great had the surrounding film been better.
As far as the scares go, it’s all pretty par for the course in the modern genre of filmmakers believing that the best way to terrify a viewer is to throw something in front of the camera that wasn’t there a second ago with a very loud musical screech. That’s not to say that some of the imagery on display in front of the lens isn’t disturbing, because the spirits are pretty haunting to look at in a few of their brief appearances, but the more they linger on screen, the less-intimidating they are and the jump scares themselves prove to be uninteresting and more evident of a rush job than taking the time to build suspense.
Despite a cast full of talented performers, they all mostly prove to be uninteresting in their fairly routine characters, becoming a meld of forgettable and cardboard cutouts that make it hard to truly care about them. Brenton Thwaites’ Chris fluctuates back and forth between a wide-eyed younger soldier thoroughly afraid of their current situation and a leader-type trying to help keep his group together, but be it his performance, the writing, or both, it feels like a real imbalance of a central character that proves hard to connect to and even harder to care for.
Though Ghosts of War has some interesting ideas on how to blend a unique story with an old-fashioned haunted house thrill ride, its lackluster writing, uninteresting characters, and dull performances add up to a true waste of potential.