Let’s stay at a manor.
Ghosts of War advertises itself as a horror/war movie where American GIs have to hold a French manor and fight off ghosts and Nazis. Genre blends can be fun, and the trailer looks great, so we decided to give this one a go, hoping for a good time.
Oh, how we were mistaken.
The film begins with our group of five soldiers (who are oddly hard to get to know for the first half) ambushing Nazis on their way to the manor. Then, our heroes mutilate the corpses, torture, and humiliate the survivors, and I’m not sure what the purpose of these moments were. What makes me mad is now I must defend Nazis from torture, I guess? The scenes seemed unnecessarily cruel, and the point the film makes seems to be less about the nature of war and rather that these five men might be sadistic. The overall message it tries to make is muddled, if not entirely forgotten, by the film’s end.
Once we get to the manor, the scares begin quickly, which I would usually say is a good thing. Here, we have soldiers who are in a formerly Nazi occupied home who don’t react to doors slamming with much more than a “that was weird” mentality. Instead of thinking ghosts, you’d imagine they would be curious if there was a lingering German soldier hiding. This is a long way of saying that these soldiers don’t seem too good at soldiering.
The fact that the weird stuff they encounter isn’t investigated more drove me nuts. It reminded me of the Paranormal Activity movies (or other found footage films) where they take the time to set up an investigation but don’t follow through by watching the videos. In Ghosts of War, we have the soldiers recognize that the tapping on the walls is in Morse Code, and despite an ominous message, it is basically walked away from.
The ghosts are reliving the torturous deaths they experienced at the hands of Nazis, but they also lash out at the American soldiers. The mystery on the surface level is interesting enough, but we are given cuts and images of something else that lets us know the obligatory twist is coming.
I see the film as having two major sections: the pre or post twist. Pre twist is a serviceable horror film at best. The ideas are interesting, even if ill-placed and not followed through, so horror fans will be entertained for a decent chunk of the narrative. Post twist, due to technical decisions and storytelling decisions movies this one to likely the Worst of the Year list on this blog.
I’m going to discuss the twist now, so if you’re curious enough to rent the film please stop here!
It ends up that our soldiers are in a computer simulation to help them cope with PTSD from their time in Afghanistan. Yep, you read that right. So, instead of a horror/war movie we get odd science fiction spilled all over the place.
The twist makes the entire film pointless. For me, twists where what you just watched doesn’t matter have always been a low mark. The rationale behind putting soldiers in a different war to deal with PTSD is so glossed over that none of it makes sense. We are given a massive exposition dump with plenty of virtual reality mumbo-jumbo in the final moments.
However, what truly makes this an awful film is the crappy directing. While the filming in the WWII sequences wasn’t good (think about a million cuts a minute) it won’t make you nauseous. While the soldiers are hiding and watching an Afghan family be murdered, the film begins pulsing, shaking, and wobbling. My guess is they thought this would make it more intense, but it literally made me feel ill to watch. The shaky cam mixed with the pulsing renders what is meant to be an emotional moment unwatchable.
Additionally, we are shown that the soldiers are heroic and kind. Why the simulation would make them sadistic doesn’t make any sense. None of the movie makes any sense once you begin tugging on any of the ideas present.
In the end, we have a subpar horror film (that could have at least been fun) marred by a horrific and ill-thought out ending. Walking away from this one you’ll feel like your time was wasted.