GHOSTS OF WAR movie poster | ©2020 Vertical Entertainment

GHOSTS OF WAR movie poster | ©2020 Vertical Entertainment

Rating: R
Stars: Brenton Thwaites, Theo Rossi, Skylar Astin, Kyle Gallner, Alan Ritchson
Writer: Eric Bress
Director: Eric Bress
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Release Date: July 17, 2020

GHOSTS OF WAR is largely a haunted house story set in 1944 Nazi-occupied France. That’s how the setting is identified in the opening crawl. We’re with a squad of five young American soldiers.

Our first introduction is to Chris (Brenton Thwaites), who awakens in a dark clearing, with his comrades sleeping nearby. He either sees or hallucinates something in the surrounding forest.

In daylight, we meet the rest of the group. Kirk (Theo Rossi) seems to be in charge. Eugene (Skylar Astin) is the most educated and cautious. Butchie (Alan Ritchson) is naturally combative. Sniper Tappert (Kyle Gallner) seems to already be unbalanced, even before they reach their destination. This is a gorgeous, gigantic chateau. Our guys have been assigned to relieve the U.S. Army company currently embedded on the premises, which had been a French family’s home before they were slaughtered and the place was taken over by the Nazi High Command, who have now fled, leaving the Americans to take possession.

Curiously, although the alternative is hiking and resting on muddy ground, the soldiers who’ve been in the house are only too happy to head out. We understand why soon enough: the house and surrounding grounds are haunted by ghosts that are anguished and angry.

Our heroes figure out with respectable speed that they’re dealing with the supernatural. This seems like a good thing, suggesting that GHOSTS OF WAR is not going to waste its running time rehashing traditional belief/non-belief arguments and will instead do something new, or at least provide OVERLORD-type horror fun.

Director/writer Eric Bress (of THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT) does a nice job of sliding the scary stuff into frame, but he’s got something more serious on his mind. GHOSTS OF WAR is set up in a way that undermines its deeper intentions. There are some whiplash-inducing tonal shifts. We wind up so busy examining the puzzle pieces and trying to determine how and if they work together that our emotions have little chance to register and grow.

GHOSTS OF WAR movie poster | ©2020 Vertical Entertainment

GHOSTS OF WAR movie poster | ©2020 Vertical Entertainment

This is a shame, because Bress has assembled a strong main cast, with Astin and Rossi both registering as likable, level-headed types. Gallner skillfully stays right on the line between sympathetic and alarming, with Thwaites supplying watchful curiosity and Ritchson scoring as his thick-headed but brave character. There are also some impressive makeup effects, especially in the final third.

By the end of GHOSTS OF WAR, it’s hard not to wonder how the material would fare in prose form. We can tell why the structure should work, and Bress does tie the beginning and end together cleverly. Still, as a movie-watching experience, it’s more of a jumble than a good scare.

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