A Ghost Waits (USA, 2017)
When I mentioned that A Ghost Waits was on my list for this year, a number of dedicated fans revealed themselves on our Discord server. While this charming little indie film had passed me by until now, it seems to have a solid fan following. After watching it, I can’t say I’m surprised. While it may be more of a romantic comedy with horror elements than an actual horror film, it still hits all the right notes. And it’s hard not to admire a film that works around its complete lack of budget so creatively.
I don’t know precisely what the budget of A Ghost Waits was, but I suspect it wouldn’t cover the lunch order on most film sets. The make-up looks more like the kind of thing you’d throw together at the last minute for a Halloween party, but that just adds to the charm. If the ghosts actually looked scary, the film would be a lot less fun. And for all its ghostly goings-on, this is not a film that sets out to scare you in the slightest.
A Ghost Waits is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
Jack is adrift within his own life. Temporarily homeless while his house is fumigated, he can’t even get friends to return his calls asking for somewhere to crash. Despite this, he remains outwardly cheerful, maybe because he enjoys his work.
This work involves repairing rental properties before new tenants move in. His latest assignment is to fix up a house whose tenants have run out on their lease, leaving all their possessions behind. It seems they were not the first to do this here.
With nowhere else to stay, Jack camps in the house while repairing it. It doesn’t take long for him to realise why people are fleeing. Doors start opening and closing, and little things go wrong in the house. Of course, as a handyman, Jack initially just sees these as problems to fix. But then there are the unsettling dreams encouraging Jack to leave. Finally, Muriel, the ghost behind it all, reveals herself.
Of course, A Ghost Waits is more a romantic comedy than a horror film, so this haunting becomes an elaborate meet cute. While Muriel wants to drive Jack from the house, she relents as the attraction between them becomes apparent. The course of love in films like this must never run smoothly, however.
We learn that Muriel is bound to this house by bureaucracy rather than trauma (a fine distinction, maybe). She is an agent of a supernatural organisation, charged with keeping the house free of the living for undefined reasons. When she fails to scare Jack off, Muriel’s supervisor assigns her hated rival, Rosie, instead.
Will Jack and Muriel find happiness together? Can they stand together against the horrors of micromanagement? And just what is Rosie’s problem anyway?
The spectre of Beetlejuice hangs heavily over A Ghost Waits. Not only does it have a ghostly protagonist trying to drive mortals from a house, but the phantasmal bureaucracy of the afterlife is reminiscent of Beetlejuice‘s waiting rooms and impenetrable training manual for the newly departed. A Ghost Waits is a much less wacky film, however, focusing on a burgeoning relationship rather than a well-established one.
A huge part of the atmosphere of A Ghost Waits comes from the bouncy indie pop songs that make up its soundtrack. They establish a tone that leaves the viewer in no doubt about the kind of film they are watching.
There seems to be some commentary about horror films in the relative haunting styles of the two ghosts. Muriel is old-school, using a slow build-up of dread to unsettle her targets before finessing with the big scare. Rosie, on the other hand, is all about the jump scares. From the outset, she relies entirely on appearing from nowhere and looking scary. Jack’s reaction to this is purely physiological, jumping in fright and then getting annoyed. There is a lesson for us all here.
Watching all this, I was reminded of a weird incident from my youth. Back in the late ’70s, my parents bought a house in Dundee. Their goal was to live there one day, but they rented it out through an agency until then. One group of tenants left the property overnight, without warning, leaving all their belongings behind. When the agency asked them what had happened, one of the tenants, who had been living in the converted attic bedroom, said that they had been lifted up and thrown out of bed by an invisible presence. Maybe they should have asked whether the spectre was named Muriel. That’s a good Dundonian name.
As you might guess from the black-and-white screen grabs, A Ghost Waits is almost painfully indie. While the acting is fine, it also has a degree of artifice that makes it feel ironic at times. Barring a few scenes, the camera work is so static that I felt like I was watching Clerks, only with ghosts. Ultimately, this all suits the story far better than a more polished approach might have done.
For what is a short feature, A Ghost Waits has a leisurely pace. I wasn’t entirely sold for the first 30 minutes or so. The build-up of weird events was fine, but it felt like the narrative was going round in circles. Once Muriel revealed herself, however, I was hooked.
My only serious complaint lies with the ending. I am going to spoil it a little, so stop reading after the next paragraph if you’d like to avoid that.
Despite this one misgiving, I highly recommend A Ghost Waits for anyone looking for something different to watch this month. Even if the film is light on scares, it has more than enough ghosts to earn a place on your list. And isn’t that enough?
While the final resolution to Jack and Muriel’s romantic problems fits both the logic and the emotional tone of the film, it does rather romanticise suicide. One could argue that the ending is intended to be much darker than it first appears, however. We have seen that there is a real emptiness at the centre of Jack’s existence. No matter how cheerful a face he puts on things, he is clearly a very unhappy man. Having him choose to end things as he does is a terrible thing when viewed from outside the scope of his relationship with Muriel. And yet we see it here very much as a happy ending. For those of us who sometimes struggle with suicidal ideation, depictions like this can be insidious.
Still, this ruin stops short of ruining what is otherwise a charming and imaginative little love story.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!