Incident in a Ghostland has been popping up on horror fan group pages since its recent release on Netflix, and the reviews are mixed. It seems to be a “love it or hate it” movie, and for good reason. Incident in a Ghostland will push some people’s buttons, while those more seriously triggered may not be able to finish viewing it at all. Writer/director Pascal Laugier has created a film that doesn’t just mess with your head; it calls your attention to mental illness in the darkest of ways.
The story follows sisters Beth (Emilia Jones, Locke and Key) and Taylor Hickson as their mother Pauline (Mylene Farmer) uproots them to move into their recently deceased aunt’s house in the middle of nowhere. On the drive there, they are passed by a creepy ice cream truck that taunts them before speeding off ahead. On their first night in the house, they are brutally attacked by the ice cream truck driver and almost killed before Pauline saves the day. This may sound a little too tropey, and if you take it at face value it probably is. Laugier, however, has a lot more in store for the viewer.
Sixteen years later, adult Beth (Crystal Reed) receives a distressing call from her sister (Anastasia Phillips as adult Vera) and leaves her perfectly posh life to return to the scene of the crime where her mother and sister still live. What follows is one of the most horrific tales ever told. Viewers who are unfamiliar with mental illness will enjoy the movie for the body horror and extreme discomfort, but those who understand trauma processing will find it disturbing and haunting.
With the characters switching back and forth between their teenaged and adult selves, it becomes confusing to understand what is actually happening to them, and that’s the point. The viewer is never quite sure which timeline is the correct one until close to the end of the film. The twists Laugier takes are brilliant, bending the viewer’s mind so many times along the ride that you can’t predict what’s coming next. His characters’ fear is palpable at both ages, but moments when young Beth is left alone with “The Fat Man” are particularly terrifying.
From the opening scene through to the end, Laugier employs darkly lit scenes to augment the senses of dread and malaise, creating a creepy Victorianesque setting in a dilapidated, overly crowded country house full of broken dolls and tchotchkes. The filter he uses makes every surface seem dirty which compounds the underlying vibe of the movie: disgust. The viewer is plunged into horrific chaos within the first ten minutes of the film, and the pace only slows once to showcase Beth’s perfect adult life before she returns home.
To say much more about the plot would be entering spoiler territory, and this film relies on its surprises to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats, but a trigger warning should be shared. Incident in a Ghostland deeply explores the human psyche during and after severe trauma. It is more than a horror movie; it’s a depiction of what can happen when someone is abused. The morally questionable content is necessary to the story for that reason. Jones and Hickson are put through some very difficult scenes to watch, and they do it with impressive skill. Reed, however, is phenomenal as adult Vera giving a convincingly phrenetic performance throughout the film. Make up and FX created realistically gruesome faces for the actors, especially Rob Archer who plays the mentally disturbed abuser. Archer, standing 6’6” at 285lbs has had recurring roles in Lost Girl, Defiance and Slasher, and his size made him the perfect Krampus in A Christmas Horror Story. His transformation in Incident in a Ghostland is worth noting.
On the last day of filming, Hickson experienced an unfortunate on-set injury that left permanent scarring on her face, oddly resembling the look she had been given for most of the movie after the home invasion scene. Her lawsuit made the news, and while she was too traumatized to work while undergoing multiple plastic surgeries, she is now starring in a lead role in Motherland: Fort Salem.
Incident in a Ghostland is a memorable view but is not for everyone. Taken simply as a torture horror, the story may feel flat. As an exploration into the depths of the human mind, it is excellent. Regardless of how you watch it, there are scenes that will haunt you for a lifetime.
Kate’s love of all things dark began as a child and deepened when she realized what being an adult meant. She was born with a pencil in her hand and loves nothing more than writing horrific stories to tantalize her inner demons. Kate lives in Hamilton, Ontario Canada with her husband and her boys, stirring up trouble wherever she can.