Ghost House is a “targeted tourist” horror film. It is about a young couple named Julie and Jim (played by Scout Taylor Compton and James Landry Hébert), who are selected to be the unfortunate victims of sympathetic magic. Their romantic getaway to Thailand turns into a supernatural nightmare after two British tourists named Robert and Billy (played by Russell Geoffrey Banks and Richard Gray) transfer a curse to Julie in a ghost house graveyard. The direness of Julie and Jim’s situation draws you in, but for all of its urgency Ghost House is just an average horror movie.
On a positive note, the movie effectively fleshes out its background story, which is an interesting blend of ancient tradition and local tragedy. According to Julie and Jim’s helpful driver and tour guide Gogo (played by Michael New), the people of Thailand build ghost houses to “keep the ghosts happy.” With the help of offerings and prayers, the people hope that the spirits will live in these miniature houses instead of haunting the houses of the living.
It is not a good idea to disrespect a ghost house, and this is what Julie accidentally does when Robert tricks her into picking up a figurine from one of these houses to take home as a souvenir. The ghost house that Julie disrespects is the home of an angry ghost named Watabe (played by Wenchu Yang). In life, Watabe set her house on fire because she wanted to kill her husband and the servant girl he was having an affair with. She burned to death instead. Watabe was closing in on the soul of Robert’s girlfriend (played by Kat Grey), but now Watabe wants Julie’s soul instead.
The vengeful spirit story is not a new one, so Ghost House relies on creating a dark atmosphere to make the story more believable. It is even filmed on location in Thailand where old traditions are still alive despite modernization. Julie’s possession by a ghost seems possible in the remote countryside where people still deeply respect the power of the spirit world to influence the world of the living.
The movie also does a good job of creating unsettling special effects that present Watabe as a menacing, frightening figure. She can shape shift and has the ability to materialize as a slow, creeping mist and other scary forms. Walls and locked doors can’t keep her away from her victims.
While Ghost House provides a fairly good balance of spooky storytelling and creepy special effects, these elements do not fully compensate for its predictable storyline. You can easily guess that after Julie is possessed by the ghost, Jim will spend the rest of the movie trying to find a way to get rid of Watabe and save Julie’s soul.
The movie also cuts corners on character development, especially in the second half of the movie. The background story about Reno (played by Mark Boone Junior), a man recommended by Billy as someone who could help Julie, seems sketchy. Why does Reno live in what appears to be an abandoned building with various women clinging to him? His corny line that “I’m more of a sham than a shaman” does not really provide much information about him.
And there were a lot of filler scenes in about the last half hour of the movie. For approximately 10 minutes (yes, I tried to time it), the viewers must endure watching Jim, Reno, and Gogo’s long trek through the jungle and across the water as they transport a mostly unconscious Julie to a witch doctor (played by Wattana Koomkrong) who might be able to save her before it is too late. The trip to the witch doctor actually took a little more screen time than the witch doctor’s encounter with Watabe, which was anticlimactic because it was so short and fast.
Despite all of Julie’s numerous screams and Watabe’s constant scares, Ghost House falls short of being a horror tour de force. It strives to take viewers into a thrilling excursion into an otherworldly dimension of torment, but it ends up trapping viewers within the confines of a predictable and unevenly developed plot instead.