A Ghost Waits takes the simplest of premises and somehow makes it into an utter standout of a film. There will surely not be as many likably charming films released in 2021.
Jack’s (MacLeod Andrews) job is to fix up rental properties to make way for new tenants, but one property keeps winding up empty. Tasked with discovering why and fixing the issue, Jack meets Muriel…a ghost. Muriel’s (Natalie Walker) job is to haunt the home and keep it vacant. They should be enemies but find they have a great deal in common… pulse notwithstanding. Having found a kindred spirit in an otherwise lonely existence, Jack and Muriel must fight for their newfound affection as pressure mounts for them each to fulfil their “cross-purposes”.
Adam Stovall has taken the ball and run with it here and then some. By taking the premise and making it work so seamlessly, we fall for these characters and the arcs that Stovall is giving them. The use of black and white photography helps not only to keep the feel of the film looking unique in modern comparisons. But to also show the mood and feelings that we find our two leads in. These are two very lost and desperate souls, so the total removal of all colour helps drain us of hope. This is a feature directorial debut to remember.
This allows the comedic nature of the film to stand out more. We as an audience feel as if we need the colour to bring us some joy, so we are desperate for something to cling to. So when the comedy and specifically the tone of how Jack tries to deal with Muriel at the start begins. It lifts the audience. We now become aware of what to expect and it makes you sit up a little more. You realise this is a different film and it is a joy to experience. Which may be one of the few times you say that about a supernatural flick.
This is a film made on a low budget and yet, there is a strong feeling that it wouldn’t work with a larger one. The charm is in the film almost solely being set around this one house (other than our visits to the other side). The idea that it has such a small cast and uses standard ghost camera trickery is what brings the charm to it. By enhancing all of it with a big budget then the feel of A Ghost Waits fades. This low budget also allows for some out of the box thinking on how the film should look and this causes the black and white cinematography to work so well.
Humanity and cost of loneliness are rife in Stovall’s script. Jack has next to no connections in the real world. He is a helpful hand and an employee, but nothing more than that. Jack needs a place to stay and no one is willing to help him, asking questions about love and life, only to be pushed back. He has no connections to anything until Muriel appears. As for Muriel, she has been alone in this home for hundreds of years, she stays in her house where she is comfortable and while she could go to the offices of her work, she doesn’t. These lonely and lost souls in their versions of crisis find each other and Stovall provides them with some strong dialogue which is the strong hinge to the film.
Their natural dynamic (considering the circumstances) in the writing helps these two characters become relatable. There are quite the comedic moments, and then immediately dialogue that is enveloped with sadness. These are two sad people, even our second spectral agent has a strong level of sadness to her. As the dialogue flows so easy it would not be surprising if there were some improve floating around as some remarks come off so natural that it surely could not be pre-written. There is, of course, a serious commentary delved deep within the film and the film must touch upon it. While these two characters are lost and some drastic actions are taken. They are two people who find one another and the weaving conjured to get their work due to the amount of heart we have in A Ghost Waits.
There is even a small touch that is simply lovely for horror fans. Muriel’s scare technique is to get under the skin of her hauntee. To use psychological techniques and small things to make them unnerved before making sure they run as quickly for the hills. Whereas her rival Rosie is all shock and awe. She goes loud and brass with her scares. Jump scares and gore is her end game. Using scars to help bring fear to the person. In the end, it is the perfect epitome of different generations of horror. We have been in the era of jump scares and gore for a while and as Rosie is quite young, that is what she knows as to be scary. Whereas Muriel knows of a more insidious (not the film) way. She wants to slowly build and earn the scare. Unbelievably clever.
As much as the script is the hinge to the success of the film, even more so is the performances. The loose yet pent up performance from Andrews epitomises the idea of the film. He is a man who wants to be free of his worries, to love and to live. Yet, there is a sincere amount weight upon his shoulders, he is weighed down. Whenever he talks to someone on the phone or the poor pizza delivery guy, he is desperate for some form of human connection and Andrews performance is perfect in showing this. Andrews is exceptional here, owning the screen and bringing a light-hearted nature to the character yet knowing the perfect actions when required for when he has to turn sorrowful and lost.
Walker plays the lost and dispassionate Muriel, a spectral agent who has forgotten more in her human and ghost life than she remembers. She is drifting by, doing this one deed (very well). However, like Jack, she is just as lost. Walker is refrained at the beginning, but as she interacts with Jack more and more the more human part of her soul that she buried deep down begins to awaken. She knows the consequences if she fails her job, yet she is enjoying this time with him. This is the type of performance that allows Walker to have a whale of a time. She can allow her character to grow and with that, we see what personality she brings into the role.
A Ghost Waits is a pitch-perfect film that handles everything far better than you could ever imagine. With two leads who get the characters so well that they become faultless. This is a feature debut that doesn’t have the right to be as good as it is. A story that details the loneliness and the joy when you find someone you connect with. Whoever or whatever they are. A Ghost Waits gets you when you don’t expect it to thanks to the sheer force of its charm. A wonderfully empathetic film that won’t be long forgotten. A brilliant gem.
A Ghost Waits is available on ARROW from 1st Feb.
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