In praise of ‘A Ghost Waits’

JUNE 19 — One of the most satisfying things that can result from my never-ending hunt for new horror/genre films is when I encounter something so special that it, despite production setbacks/disadvantages like a low budget or no-name cast, transcends the usual pleasures one can expect from watching genre movies. 

It’s a bit like witnessing an underdog triumph against all odds, a special experience that I’m sure everyone would love to have more often, and nowhere is this experience more likely to happen in cinema than in the realm of the low budget indie horror/genre flicks.

History is littered with fine examples of low-key marvels like these, with some directors even graduating to making big budget Hollywood films, like what happened to Christopher Nolan (of Inception, Tenet, Dunkirk and The Dark Knight trilogy fame) after first making his mark with his no-budget and shot-on-weekends debut feature film Following

Directors now making big Hollywood films like Adam Wingard (Godzilla vs Kong), Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) all got their starts making low budget genre flicks that probably only ardent genre fans like me have watched or even heard of. 

Look up films like A Horrible Way To Die, Clown and Absentia to check out how they made magic happen in their early days even without the help of a substantial budget.

Some directors like Shane Carruth (who made the instant classics Primer and Upstream Colour) and the directing team of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (who made the unforgettable Spring and Resolution) remain relatively unknown to the masses, but have amassed enough of a cult following that they have (at least in the case of Benson and Moorhead) continued to make bigger and bigger (but no less ambitious) films.

After stumbling upon a low budget black and white indie horror flick called A Ghost Waits this past week, I think there’s a very good chance that we can add the name of debuting writer-director Adam Stovall to that list. 

A scene from black and white indie horror flick ‘A Ghost Waits’. — Screen capture via YouTube/Arrow Video
A scene from black and white indie horror flick ‘A Ghost Waits’. — Screen capture via YouTube/Arrow Video

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Shot gradually over three years from 2016 to 2018, which included 12 days of principal photography in 2016 and a few additional days of pickups in 2017 and 2018, with what clearly looked like chump change, A Ghost Waits clearly won’t win any awards for cinematography, and this after taking into account how much the monochrome look has managed to cover up their budgetary constraints and the fact that they shot it gradually over a number of years.

What will win you over is how refreshing, romantic and startlingly deep the film turned out to be. 

The story itself is pretty simple. The movie opens with a scene that we’ve seen hundreds of times before, of a family fleeing from a house after being scared witless by a ghost. That ghost is Muriel (played by Natalie Walker).

We’re then placed in the presence of Jack (co-writer MacLeod Andrews), a currently homeless handyman (because his apartment building is being fumigated and none of his friends called back when he asked for a couch to crash on), whose job is to fix up vacated properties for the next tenants. 

The house he’s now assigned to fix up is, of course, the one being haunted by Muriel.

Not having any other place to crash in, Jack decided to sleep on the floor of the house, bringing his sleeping bag with him, with Muriel slowly applying the scares in her own very methodical way. 

When things finally escalate and Jack is driven from the house, something surprising happens because, not having anywhere else to go and with his job still nowhere near finished, Jack runs back inside the house and decides to ignore the scares and face Muriel head on, which of course led them to start talking.

The film’s title may imply that Muriel is the ghost that’s waiting, but Stovall and MacLeod have subtly set things out so that it slowly dawns on the viewer that Jack, while very much still alive and breathing, is in his own way also a ghost, waiting for an opportunity to make a meaningful connection with someone, anyone even, judging from the way he tries to make conversation with the pizza delivery guy, or the kind of conversations he tries to have with his boss on the phone.

As sweet and fetching as their romantic connection may be, loneliness is not the only thing that Jack and Muriel have in common, and this is where the film’s real trump card lies. 

In setting up the plot, Stovall has also playfully depicted an afterlife where Muriel is also part of a sort of corporate world there, in which she’s been assigned the house to haunt, and that she even has a supervisor that she reports to, who threatens to bring in a younger, and fresher recruit to help her do her job once it becomes apparent that Jack is not scared of Muriel.

So not only is Jack in a dead-end job, but Muriel is in one too. And it’s this thesis that makes the movie so special, urging us to realise that our careers do not define us, that our wealth is not our worth and that life’s true meaning lies in the meaningful relationships we forge. 

It’s a gentle anti-capitalist satire wrapped up in the guise of an indie romance flick, and it’s one heck of a unique, one-of-a-kind viewing experience. Already one of my favourite films of 2021, do yourself a favour and seek this one out.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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