Ghostland (2018), also known as An Incident in a Ghostland, is film directed by Pascal Laugier. Those familiar with Pascal Laugier’s work will quickly realize that he also directed the cinéma vérité masterpiece Martyrs (2008). The cinéma vérité style describes a form of cinema that immerses itself its audience in a 3rd person perspective that highlights struggle a character in the face of extreme pain and suffering. Our review of Martyrs offers some additional thoughts on that style and its contrast to the more American version we call “torture porn”.
Malevolent Dark felt very strongly that Martyrs offered a profound horror experience. Accordingly, we were very excited when this recommendation came to us. Pascal Laugier’s film also come with great controversy as one of Laugier’s lead actresses, Taylor Hickson, suffered significant facial injuries during the filming of Ghostland.
The Candy Truck From Hell
The story begins with Pauline, played by Mylène Farmer, travelling with her two beautiful daughters to their recently deceased aunts house in the countryside. Emilia Jones plays Beth, an aspiring horror writer. Taylor Hickson assumes the role of Vera, her hyper-critical sister. In route, they have a strange encounter with a candy truck that blows by them on the highway. When they finally arrive at their aunt’s house, the home is nothing short of frightening in and of itself. But things get way worse when the candy truck shows back up.
Suddenly, as the women make themselves at home in the house, a behemoth of a man assaults Pauline. An older woman accompanies the man. During the conflict, the man brutalizes Vera and rapes her. As the women contemplate why they are being attacked, the female assailant explains, “We just want to play with dolls”. Eventually Pauline’s mother-bear instincts kick in and she launches into a rage, stabbing and slicing at the attackers with whatever she can find… eventually slaying the intruders and saving the day.
Flashing forward, Beth overcomes the traumas of that day and eventually launches a career as successful horror writer. Long ago left her mother and Vera for the city and her career. Vera never let go of the events of that day and she struggles with flashbacks of the situation daily. One day Vera calls Beth, screaming about how the candy truck is coming for her. Beth decides to go back to her mother and Vera to check on their well-being. What she finds is the reality of their situations, and its not at all what she thinks it is.
Crystal Reed plays the older successful Beth, and Anastasia Phillips plays the older version of Vera.
The Psychology of Resiliency
Pascal Lugier’s film deals with the subject of the mind and the precarious nature reality under stress. One of the underlying themes concerns the lengths that the mind will go to protect someone undergoing incredible stress. Through compartmentalization, Beth locks the realities of her world in a steel bound corner of her mind. Unable to deal with the horrors of her life, she whimsically creates the world that she wants to live in. Unfortunately for Vera, she is unable to retreat from her reality and lives through the daily terrors of life.
Only when Beth can transcend the prison of her own mind, can she and her sister hope to change their dire situation.
Laugier presents an interesting story; however, his portrayal of this phenomenon betrays real-world experience. Certainly, the mind has the ability to withstand diamond forging pressures by altering perceived reality, but I suspect that this new reality never offers a fantasyland of cocktail parties and book signings. Reality suggests that the mind takes a far darker path. The mind begins to assume that it deserve what they are getting. It make excuses for its abusers. It even denigrate its own self-worth. In the real world, this altered reality offers only sorrow and pain.
However, Laugier is not writing a college psychology textbook, he’s directing a horror movie. Artistic interpretation is allowed.
Another Word on Cinéma Vérité
At Malevolent dark, we spend a lot of time considering genres and sub-genres of horror. Why? Because that is where the arguments are! In the Martyrs review, we made a distinction with respect to cinéma vérité and torture porn. Cinéma vérité tells the tale from an observational point of view. As a neutral observer, it allows the viewer to cycle through any and all emotional responses to the action on screen, primarily feelings of extreme sympathy. Torture Porn on the other hand seeks to find spectacle in the violence itself.
We bring up this distinction only to point out that Pasal Laugier chose a different path for this film. The scenes of extreme violence seem to hold more in common with the extreme torture porn scenes of the The Hills Have Eyes remakes from the late 2010s. This contrasts significantly to the profound and emotional experience of Martyrs.
Still, Pascal Laugier does create sympathetic characters and forces the audience to develop a relationship with them. Anyone with siblings understands when Beth willingly breaks through her sanctuary of altered reality for the love of her sister.
An Assessment in a Ghostland
As a simple horror movie, Pascal Laugier’s Ghostland performs well enough to entertain the average horror fan. For our tastes, the film lacks connective tissue to really make a cohesive whole of a movie. Additionally, the premise of a rogue candy truck driven by comically unexplained villains feels as ridiculous as it sounds. In a further absurdity, as Beth retreats to the safe haven of a holiday cocktail party, she meets her horror inspiration, H.P. Lovecraft. These cartoon oddities diminish the sense of authenticity in the film.
Those familiar with our work here at Malevolent Dark understand that we have a slight revulsion to the type of horrific sexual violence that occurs in this film. To be clear we are no passing judgement on the the people that make these films, or the people that watch them. We simply wince at thought of it, and prefer to find out horror elsewhere. To be frank, this film had enough horrible moments without the overlay of rape.
As critics, we sometimes struggle to not always compare recent work with that of past. Whereas Martyrs felt as fresh and profound as it was brutal, Ghostland felt thin and even cheap at times. we sincerely lament the fact that a young actress got severely injured for this film. Hopefully she finds a way to continue her career as we know this industry can be unforgiving. We won’t get involved in assigning blame, but we are certain that everyone involved wishes that they could take that specific Incident in a Ghostland back.
Ghostland (2018) - The Psychology of Pain - Malevolent Dark
Director: Pascal Laugier
Date Created: 2018-01-01 00:00