Thursday, December 2, 2021

It is the ghosts that strain the life of Ghostbusters: Afterlife

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The latest manifestation of the creepy series starts off well with ingenious’ 80s riffs but later merges with cinematic ectoplasm

Callie Spengler (Coon) is a single mother who cannot afford the rent for her apartment. She packs her two precocious children Trevor (Finn Wollfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace) in the back seat of the old station wagon and drives across country to the abandoned farmhouse in Oklahoma where her late father Egon lived.

The recent exhumation of Ghostbusters starts out promising enough. Directed by Jason Reitman, the son of Ivan Reitman, who directed the first Ghostbuster films in the 80s – and therefore knows their DNA very well. The script that Jason wrote with Gil Kenan is funny and well-observed, at least in the opening scenes.

The region has been hit by mysterious earthquakes. Something disastrous happened in the disused old mine. The apocalypse could be on its way.

In addition to his father’s Ghostbusters originals, Reitman pays tribute to John Hughes’ 80s high school films and even Joe Dante’s gremlins. Callie soon falls in love with her kids ‘new high school teacher, Chad (Paul Rudd), who has a lovable habit of keeping his class calm by showing them old’ 80s video bad guys like Cujo and Child’s Play. Trevor and Phoebe are both nerdy but brave teenagers who are intrigued by their grandfather’s ghost hunting gear hidden around the farmhouse.

Oddly enough, it’s the ghosts themselves that eventually get the movie’s life going. There is nothing wrong with the special effects. In one of the most imaginative scenes, thousands of tiny, Michelin man-shaped little ghosts burst out of the marshmallow packages on local supermarket shelves. They look adorable … until they start to bite.

When the kids start chasing the evil spirits, much of the charm and humor oozes from the storytelling. There are only so many ways to zap a spongy piece of cinematic ectoplasm. Reitman adds some spectacular lighting effects and some noisy car chases. The major disadvantage is that characterization suffers. One of the best parts of the movie is the weird interplay between Rudd and Coon – but once the ghostbusting starts in serious it’s easy to forget.

In the first half of the film, Reitman’s riffing and references to 80s cinema are nostalgic and awesome. In the second half, they become increasingly clumsy, scratchy, and self-indulgent. So determined is he to pay tribute to the original Ghostbusters films that he takes storytelling on increasingly absurd digressions. The end result seems all the more anti-climactic because the story began so brightly.

In cinemas from Thursday, November 18th

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