Spoiler alert- though I don’t give away a lot of the plot directly, I will be talking about some of the twists and such that occur in general terms. So if you want to go into this film cold, read this review after you’ve watched the film.
We all daydream. What would it be like to win the lottery, be a celebrity, to use a missile launcher on the car in front of you that just cut you off. Just a little harmless flight of fancy to take our minds off the mundane or sometimes annoying parts of reality. But what if those lines are blurred? Writer/Director Pascal Laugier explores that idea and more in his film Incident in a Ghostland.
Incident in a Ghostland opens with Pauline (Mylène Farmer) and her two teenage daughters, the outspoken Vera (Taylor Hickson) and the somewhat introverted Beth (Emilia Jones) driving across the planes in rural Canada. Beth isn’t a big fan of reality. She spends her time writing horror stories inspired by her favorite author; H.P. Lovecraft. Vera on the other hand is very much grounded in reality and more than a little jealous of the attention their mother gives to Beth because ‘Beth is a bit fragile’. The trio are on their way to Pauline’s sister’s house. The woman recently died and now Pauline and her daughters are going to move into the home they’ve inherited and make it their own.
As they are driving, a strange van, done up like an ice cream truck but with candy instead of ice cream, drives up next to them. The occupants are strange and stare at the girls. Vera, true to her nature flips them off and that seems to be the end of it as the van speeds on ahead of them.
Later, as they near their new home Pauline and the girls stop at a small-town gas station to fill up their tank. They hear radio reports of a series of recent home invasions in the area. All of the victims have been brutally murdered.
Upon arriving at the house, they find that Pauline’s sister had eclectic tastes. The house is filled with old toys, specifically lots and lots of creepy, collectible dolls. They try to settle into the home, but before their first night is even over, the strange candy van shows up. A very large, yet childlike simpleton bursts into the home and knocks out the mother. Then a woman dressed all in black follows him in. The giant drags Beth and Vera into the cellar. He looks them both over and then decides which one he wants to start with and takes Vera into a side room with the intention of raping her.
Beth escapes back up the stairs to try and get help, but is confronted by the woman in black. Beth is terrified, and isn’t able to move. Fortunately for her, Pauline appears and attacks the woman in black. They have a brutal fight, but Pauline stabs the woman to death and then runs downstairs and stabs the giant, saving Vera.
Cut to 16 years later. Adult Beth (Crystal Reed) is a successful horror author promoting her new book, “An Incident in a Ghostland”. She’s got everything young Beth ever dreamed of. Not only is she a bestselling author, she has a loving husband and a beautiful young son. Her life is perfect. At least until she gets a call from her mother.
Pauline is still living in the same house where the incident occurred all those years earlier. She’s there taking care of Vera (Anastasia Phillips). Vera never mentally recovered from the incident and is prone to hurting herself in fits of acting out. Beth had been encouraging her mother to have Vera committed to a home where she could get proper care.
Beth leaves her son in the care of her husband and drives back to their old home to see her mother and sister. She wants to help if she can. She’s been sending money, but feels the guilt of leaving her mother alone to care for Vera.
Pauline has steadfastly refused to have her daughter committed to an institution. She insists that she can care for her needs, but Beth continues to push as Vera’s behavior is becoming more erratic. Vera now lives in the cellar, refusing to leave it. She’s bruised and scratched and hides inside cabinets.
Beth is determined to help her sister, but as she tries, she begins to have strange visions. She flashes back to the night of the incident and sees ghostly hints of the evil of the intruders in the house. The evidence begins to mount that maybe the attackers are not completely gone as, at one point, Vera seems to be attacked by an invisible force that beats at her and drags her away from Beth. Is this the supernatural at work, or is there something even more dangerous happening to the two women?
Incident in a Ghostland is an interesting film. It reminds me of writer/director Pascal Laugier’s earlier, French language film; Martyrs. It has a similar level of violence and brutality as the home invasion scenes are truly disturbing. However, it also has the redeeming elements of his other works in that Vera and Beth are both asked to overcome the physical and mental abuse they’ve suffered. Their strength and love for each other is what is tested.
The film also explores our concepts of reality. It is interesting to see how both Beth and Vera deal with the attack. There is much more to their responses than is initially presented in the film. They both exhibit great strength of will they are asked to exhibit as they fight to survive what has happened to them in the past, and what is happening to them in the present.
Perhaps Incident in a Ghostland’s greatest problem is how brutally Laugier portrays the attack on Pauline and her family. The violence is disturbingly realistic and there is no getting around that. While that brutality and psychological abuse ultimately serve to frame the actions of Vera and Beth, it is more than definitely more than some viewers can comfortably stomach.
There is another problem with the film in that at times the dialogue is clunky and disjointed. While the performances by Taylor Hickson and Emilia Jones are amazing, there are scenes where the script doesn’t seem to live up to their ability. This may be due to Incident in a Ghostland being only writer/director Pascal Laugier’s second English language film. Whatever, the case, Incident in a Ghostland puts an interesting twist on a more or less straight forward plot revolving around a home invasion and what the victims must do to survive.
So if you’ve got a stomach for horror and are interested finding out the mystery behind what’s happening to Beth and Vera, check out Pascal Laugier’s Incident in a Ghostland. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes neither is reality.