Ghostwritten Puts a Spectral Spin on a Time-Honored Horror Trope

Image courtesy of Cranked Up Films

If there’s one horror trope I can’t get enough of, it’s a The Wicker Man-esque story about a person traveling to a remote village and slowly discovering that the locals there harbor a deadly secret. I’m not entirely sure why, but that concept just fascinates me to no end, so when I first heard about Ghostwritten, I was instantly intrigued. I didn’t know much about the film, but I knew it promised to follow that tried-and-true genre blueprint (at least to some extent), and that was enough for me. I just had to check this movie out, and when I finally sat down to watch it, I couldn’t wait to find out what dark secrets it had in store.

Ghostwritten was written and directed by Thomas Matthews, and it stars Jay Duplass, Maria Dizzia, Kate Lyn Sheil, Thomas Jay Ryan. It’s about a struggling writer named Guy Laury who had one hit novel eight years ago, but he hasn’t had much success since. He’s desperate to recapture that former glory, and to help get those creative juices flowing again, he travels to an isolated island where he plans to stay for a few months.

When Guy arrives, most of the people he meets are super nice to him, and just about everyone he talks to seems really interested in his work as a writer. On top of that, he also discovers a hidden manuscript that may or may not be connected to a local unsolved murder, and he begins to experience some strange, seemingly ghostly phenomena too. At first, he’s not entirely sure what to make of all this. Is there really something supernatural going on, or is it all in his head? It looks like it could go either way, but by the time the credits begin to roll, we realize that the truth is much darker than Guy ever realized.

On paper, that sounds like a great idea for a horror film, but unfortunately, the execution in Ghostwritten simply isn’t up to par. Most notably, the whole thing just feels really disjointed, both narratively and stylistically. For example, the movie is shot primarily in black and white, but there are times when it switches to color for a bit and then changes back again.

Along similar lines, there are also moments when the picture takes on a very grainy, VHS-like quality, and there are even a few scenes where it switches back and forth between that and the smoother, clearer photography we’re used to these days. All of that switching around is very distracting, and it often feels like writer/director Thomas Matthews is just trying too hard to be cool and artsy.

To be fair, I get some of what he was going for. In particular, the changes from black and white to color make some sense in light of the ending, but by that point, it’s too little too late. In the moment, they feel very arbitrary, and the explanation we eventually get doesn’t justify the off-putting effect those changes have as we’re watching them.

Poster for Ghostwritten shows a many laying on his down, face half obscured, with the title and the actors across his face.
Image courtesy of Cranked Up Films

And on a narrative level, Ghostwritten is similarly disjointed and confusing. On a smaller scale, there are a couple of scenes where I simply had no idea what was happening. In these moments, the film just throws seemingly random images at you, and it’s tough to figure out what exactly is going on.

Likewise, there are also times when it’s tough to figure out the flow of the narrative overall. Granted, I had no trouble understanding the general gist of the story, but I wasn’t always sure how it got from point A to point B. That lack of narrative cohesion really takes away from the impact of the film, and it’s a shame because this is actually a really cool story.

It has some fun twists and turns that I, for one, did not see coming, and the big reveal at the end makes this the kind of movie I usually just eat up. I should’ve had a blast with Ghostwritten, but instead, those weird stylistic changes and the narrative choppiness left me sorely disappointed.

All that being said, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. While I can’t say I enjoyed Ghostwritten overall, there were a few things about it that I quite liked. For starters, the horror in this film is pretty fun, and I especially enjoyed the last 10 minutes or so. It ends the story on a high note, and even though it’s not nearly enough to salvage the entire experience, there’s definitely value in a strong ending.

On top of that, Ghostwritten also features some pretty good acting. Everybody in this movie is at least adequate, and I thought Jay Duplass and Kate Lyn Sheil were particularly good. Duplass plays Guy, the main character, and Sheil plays a bartender who seems to take a liking to the struggling writer. They both make their characters feel completely believable, so no matter what was happening on screen, I always enjoyed watching them work their magic.

But at the end of that day, that’s not nearly enough to save this film. Despite some strong acting and a genuinely excellent story, the bad in Ghostwritten still ultimately outweighs the good. The movie had a ton of potential, but like I said, the odd stylistic choices and the choppiness of the story do it in, so if you’re looking for something good to watch, I’d suggest giving this film a pass.

Ghostwritten is set to hit VOD on February 9.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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