Arrow Video’s own contribution to this year’s Arrow Video Frightfest is Incident in a Ghostland (2018). If the title sounds a bit naff then it’s because it is supposed to when you learn that it is taken from the title of a book written by a wannabe horror writer and the protagonist of the story, Elizabeth Keller (Crystal Reed). She has written a story based on an incident that happened to her, her sister and mother when she was a teenager. The film opens with a long prologue (almost 20 minutes) that has the two squabbling teenager sisters traveling with their Mother (played by Canadian singer and writer, Mylène Farmer) to their new home that had been left to them by a dead aunt. (We don’t know much about their past or circumstances, other than the Mom is probably a divorcee.)
The sisters squabble as the slightly older Vera thinks her sister a deadbeat with her pretensions to be a horror writer. Young Beth (Emilia Jones) reads that killers have been kidnapping children and murdering the parents. They arrive at the run down and dilapidated house of the deceased aunt, filled with creepy Victorian dolls. On their first night there, in a moment of violent horror, the mother is attacked by a fat and bald simple minded man with a penchant for dolls and a transvestite and drag the children off by their hair. The adult Beth (Reed) wakes from a nightmare, seemingly re-living the horror of her past and now a successful writer. Not long after she receives a distressed call from her sister, Vera (Anastasia Phillips), having been driven insane by the incident several years before. The mother still lives in this house and looks after Vera, a house that does not seem changed since they were young. Vera is haunted by what she thinks are ghosts who harm, bruise and scratch her, leaving Beth to believe there maybe some truth to what she’s experiencing. When the Mom disappears it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem.
One of the problems with this French-Canadian production, is that it has fallen back on some all too familiar horror tropes of the past few years – especially in the wake of the Insidious and The Conjuring films and the latter’s own own spin-off, Annabelle (2014) as well as the likes of A Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013). There have been a whole bunch of haunted house horror films, some of course including possessed Victorian dolls, a trope and horror device that comes back to haunt Incident in a Ghostland. These films too are a new generation of horror films that followed on from the likes of The Amityville Horror (1979), The Changeling and The Beyond (both 1980). This is a natural follow-up to director Pascale Laugier’s earlier film Martyrs (2008), which followed along on a similar plot line of kidnap and torture. Indeed, both these films and others by Laugier suggest that he may become something of a horror auteur given his career to date.
The plot of the film starts with a long intro, a middle that takes the viewer in a different direction before being turning us around again volte face, that the viewer can be forgiven for feeling dizzy with being turned around so much. Nevertheless, this does serve to take away the predictability of the plot and its direction and moves it away, as a French-Canadian production from the more familiar American horror films, yet still maintaining that decayed American gothic look. There is something hard to read with a film like this, especially with the amount of violence being committed against women (actress Taylor Hickson who plays the young Vera sustained a serious injury during the making of the film when Laugier to sustain broken glass lacerations to her face and hands), yet we still know we are going to be left with a ‘final girl’. Maybe with his next film there’ll be less violence towards the female protagonists and he’ll surprise us.
Shown at this year’s Arrow Video Frightfest, the film is to be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Video on 3rd September.