GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS movie poster |©2022 XYZ Films Releasing

GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS movie poster |©2022 XYZ Films Releasing

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Thomas Hobson, Tara Perry, Phil Morris, Angela Bettis, Joseph Ruud, Tim Blake Nelson, David Arquette
Writers: Jordan Wayne Long and Tara Perry, story consultant Sean Anthony Davis
Directors: Matt Glass & Jordan Wayne Long
Distributor: XYZ Films Releasing
Release Date: February 3, 2022

GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS is a rather bland title for a well-executed tale of period folk horror. The movie owes a debt to two other films. To name these would give the game away. Suffice to say that it’s a respectable homage to one, and a big improvement on the other, though it winds up sharing a few of the latter’s deficits.

A voiceover tells us there are ghosts in the woods here. We’re in post-Civil War Arkansas, where anxious Black traveler James McCune (Thomas Hobson) is heading through the forest to what he hopes is sanctuary.

After dark, James makes a campfire, where he’s assaulted by a white robber, who insists that James is hiding precious gems on his person. Before things can take a fatal turn, the forest fills with red mist, and something lunges out of the fog to seize James’s attacker and haul him away.

Understandably shaken, James proceeds to his destination, the wooden-walled town of Norfork. James has been summoned here by his uncle Matthew (Phil Morris) to take over as the town doctor.

At first, Norfork seems positively idyllic, as well as egalitarian. Everyone has employment and housing. Nobody bats an eye at the notion of a Black doctor, any more than they object to Matthew serving more or less as the mayor. Furthermore, the town has the very latest in technology by way of gas lamps.

Norfork is preparing for the twenty-fifth anniversary of its founding. The locals firmly believe in the ghosts, who have a habit of mangling anyone who ventures beyond the walls at night. The townsfolk also take the concept of doing one’s job very seriously.

One peculiarity – not a spoiler, because it’s never addressed – is why anybody thinks the creatures in the woods are ghosts. They are neither assumed nor appear to be spirits of the dead, and in fact, they resemble demons more than human shades.

Directors Matt Glass & Jordan Wayne Long, working from a screenplay by Long and Tara Perry (Sean Anthony Davis is credited as story consultant), are good at providing atmosphere. GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS has a satisfying feel for the period, and shots of the town lit by lamps are enchanting.

The filmmakers also give GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS plenty of grace notes. It’s a lot of fun to see David Arquette as the chatty haberdasher. More than that, it’s pretty much worth the price of admission to hear Tim Blake Nelson as the town’s Scandinavian saloon keeper and Angela Bettis as his wife plunking away at the bar’s piano and belting out a Gothic mining song (we can but hope that someone makes a readily available video clip of this sequence).

Hobson earns sympathy as the stalwart James, Morris is urbane and assured as Matthew, and co-scenarist Perry is good as a tough-minded provider.

Glass and Long keep the pace moving quickly enough that by the time we question how exactly certain things work, we’re pretty far into the running time. That said, once we understand the whole picture, there are major credibility issues.

Still, GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS is proficient and entertaining, fulfilling its basic mandate.

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