JANUARY 16, 2013
I've lost count of how many movies I've watched that were picked up by Lionsgate and given new titles/misleading covers, but I'm pretty confident in saying that a vast majority of them are pretty bad. So kudos to The Ghostmaker (formerly Box of Shadows) for escaping the curse - it's actually a pretty decent movie, and hopefully not too many people will be angry that the box art covers a Reaper type killer in the woods when it's basically a Flatliners knockoff set in/around downtown Los Angeles.
The back of the box promises lots of trees and skeletal figures as well, which is bizarre since I don't think there's a single tree of note in the movie, and the actual villain is much cooler looking than anything they show here. He IS a bit Reaper-y, so it's not too misleading, but he's got spinning gears and such where one of his eyes should be, which is pretty awesome - and they just show a generic skull face. Weird. It baffles me that Lionsgate is so hellbent on giving their acquisitions new titles that don't fit the movie and covers that depict other movies entirely (Rise of the Dead remains the most HUH? worthy example), but it must work or else they wouldn't have been doing it for the past 6 years or more.
Anyway, what I first noticed was that this was actually a well made film. Since you never know what you're going to get with these releases, it was actually a nice surprise to see a well shot image, competent acting, solid editing, etc. And most impressive of all - a justified use of CGI that actually looks good to boot! The plot of the film involves a coffin that has this contraption inside that can turn you into a ghost for a while, so whenever someone uses it they get a familiar "blue mist" appearance, and the effect works quite well and looks pretty professional to boot. Since the 2nd half involves lots of such effects, I was worried that the work would get lazier as it went and start to look terrible (like most Syfy monster films, where most of the effort goes into those crucial opening shots, with the climax looking like shit since they've run out of commercials by then anyway), but it held up throughout.
The concept is also cool, and the director admits the Flatliners influence on the commentary, so they're OK in that department. But whereas that film had the characters dying for longer periods of time and bringing things back, these folks just learn to do more and more as ghosts, which of course has terrible consequences. One guy uses his ability to spy on a girl he's obsessed with, another watches a store clerk type out his security code and safe combination so he can return later and rob the joint, and by the end they're able to manipulate things as ghosts (without Vincent Schiavelli's help!), just as the plot gets more complicated with meth heads and drug dealers and such. Poor Ghostmaker is left on the sidelines for quite a while, in fact, as there are so many human villains that there isn't much time for him.
Sadly, our hero is one of those human villains - he makes attempts to redeem himself near the end, but it's not like he was corrupted by his ghost power and had to pull himself back from the ledge - he's an asshole throughout the entire movie. He steals from his girlfriend, smokes crack, and takes advantage of his disabled roommate (we see him laughing about the fact that the poor guy has to pay the bills because he refuses to pay his share). There's a difference between a flawed individual and a complete dick, and this guy is the latter. Sure, it's great that he tries to save his girlfriend near the end, but it's definitely "too little, too late" territory. Once we learn the rules and can get an idea of where the movie's going, we need strong characters to latch onto in order to maintain interest until the end, but in this department writer/director Mauro Borrelli falters - the one guy of the trio who seems to be a decent guy is also the one with the least amount of screentime, and exits the movie with quite a ways to go. The girlfriend is likable, but we never get to know her much, so it doesn't quite pick up the slack.
It also lacks a beat with the lady who owned the coffin in the first place. You'd think once shit started getting hairy he would go back to her and ask where she got it or something, but she disappears until the very end, just in time to offer some "I told you so" type scolding like the old guy in Gremlins. I was hoping the deleted scenes would have a bit more with her, but no dice, leaving some intriguing backstory completely vague. Again, the hero wasn't all that compelling, and with such a cool object at the film's center (it looks like something L'Merchant would have had in his workshop in Hellraiser IV), I would have been happy just seeing people talk about it and research it for 90 minutes, rather than use it.
In fact, none of the deleted scenes shed light on the coffin or anything else of note; they're all pretty worthless (though the first two explain a bit more about the specifics of the hero's cleaning job, which was a bit confusing in the movie but since he only does it the one time it doesn't matter in the long run), and there's no "play all" option which is always annoying. There are a trio of brief featurettes about the film's production that are pretty standard stuff, as well as a commentary by Borrelli and two of the producers. It's a decent track, loaded with production info, explanation of the FX, a bit about other excised scenes, etc. Hardly an essential track, but it's nice to listen to one of these things where the participants are pleased with their film and I'm not thinking "Are we watching the same movie?". Solid stuff; I look forward to what they do next.
What say you?