This past weekend, we watched two films that seemed to be in the same general genre – horror/thriller/drama – based on their respective trailers. In actuality, these two movies are quite different and one is not a horror/thriller at all. Ultimately, one of them I enjoyed enough, while the other I didn’t at all.
Before I get into it, my reviews will always warn when there are major spoilers ahead, so rest assured that you will be warned if you are about to run across any.
A Ghost Story
Before I Wake
It’s important to note that I’m a tough critic when it comes to the horror/thriller genre. I’ve loved “scary” movies from a very early age and it’s rare that I find one that I would rate anything higher than a 3-star. I use quotations around the word “scary,” because I’m also rarely scared by these kinds of films. Do I jump when the music crescendos and something suddenly pops out of nowhere? Sure, but I do that when toast hops out of the toaster like a Jack-In-The-Box. Every time. Every single time. It’s when I can’t sleep at night because my imagination is running wild and I’m picturing demons, ghosts, or Death himself skulking in the shadows of the bedroom. That’s when I know a movie has truly scared me.
After seeing the trailer for A Ghost Story, I was really excited to see it. I had also heard a lot of great buzz about the film.
We settled in to watch and the first thing I noticed was the Instagram aspect ratio. You know, where the image is almost a perfect square and the corners are rounded off? Okay, fine. It’s “artsy.” Little did I know this was only the beginning of the “self-indulgent nonsense,” as Simon Cowell would put it.
From the trailer, I was intrigued by the idea of portraying a ghost in a film wearing the classic cut-out sheet that kids make as simple Halloween costumes. In reality, this gimmick quickly became irksome though. Mostly, I was just nervous someone was going to trip on all that dragging fabric.
As I watched this slow, uneventful, and dare I say boring narrative play out on screen, I kept thinking that it would have all worked better as a single still image. Perhaps a painting or a photograph would have successfully conveyed the same feeling/story and I would have 90 minutes of my life back, give or take.
This was the first film in several years or more that truly made me contemplate bailing out a third of the way in. The scene that about pushed me over the edge came fairly early on where Rooney Mara spent what felt like an eternity eating a pie. The scene is composed of two very long shots, no dialogue, no music, a very frozen camera, and this broken chick eating a pie. Eating more pie. Still eating pie. I actually yelled out from the pure torture, “WE GET IT!”
(Don’t even get me started on the extended sequence of Casey Affleck and Ms. Mara’s Eskimo kisses that dragged on before that.)
If I had known I would get Oscar attention for slapping the Walden filter over a long-shot of a quiet, still, emotional food binge, I could have done that myself several times last year. I never would have thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would be knocking down my door.
In the end, I exercised extreme patience and pushed through to the end of the film. Somewhere around the midpoint or a little after, there was finally some momentum. A random, brief character delivers a drawn-out monologue that is clearly the entire message that the creators want to push and it’s not the slightest bit subtle. We are then brought to the end of it all, the credits roll, and I say, “What?!” Not from a lack of understanding, but from sheer shock that this was what all the hype was about.
To keep it all the way real, I would have been so much happier watching Sam Wheat run around with Oda Mae Brown, trying to keep Molly Jensen outta danger, girl.
Next, we decided to take a look at 2016’s Before I Wake. Given what we had just endured, I wasn’t sure I had the strength for another stinker and I had lost all faith that the next one could be worthwhile.
Perhaps it was just that my expectations were already in the basement, but I actually enjoyed this one. It certainly wasn’t anything to rave about, but it’s not a waste of time either.
This film fit into the genre that the trailer would lead you to believe it belongs to. My largest criticism is the hokey quality of the CG ghoul, “The Kanker Man,” but I am rarely forgiving and even more rarely impressed by the visual reveal of “the bad thing” in any horror film.
Sidebar: I suppose I’m just a bit old school in this regard, maybe. I find that a creature you never see on screen is far more terrifying than the one you do. If you have a great imagination like I do, then your mind will construct something to fill in the gap that is usually way worse than what the film’s art department can concoct. This is probably because what truly scares each person is slightly different, so best to leave it to the individual to imagine for themselves.
In the end, Before I Wake isn’t anything terribly original, but it is entertaining enough. I do take issue with the ending in two aspects: I didn’t care for the proposed fate of the dad and I came to realize that the mom isn’t a very good person overall. Also, there was one loose string left untied, which really bugs me when films let these things go. Ask me about Love Actually sometime. Or don’t.
A Ghost Story – ★☆☆☆☆
Before I Wake – ★★★☆☆