The latest horror from Martyrs filmmaker Pascal Laugier sees the writer-director return to the theme of young women in physical and psychological pain in a film that frustrates as much as it intrigues.
We begin with aspiring teenage horror writer Beth (Emilia Jones), her sister Vera (Taylor Hickson) and their mother (Mylène Farmer) arriving at their new home in the middle of nowhere. The home is filled to the brim with creepy bits and pieces, which is perfect for Beth, but Vera is running out of patience with her sibling’s predilection for the sinister. No sooner have they arrived than a nightmare scenario comes true, as the family is brutally attacked by a pair of home invaders.
Years later, Beth (Crystal Reed) is a successful novelist with a family of her own, but her publicity tour is cut short when she gets a disturbing phone call from her sibling (Anastasia Phillips). All is not well at home…
Laugier sets an uncanny and unsettling mood early on and plays with ideas of time and reality with no little skill, but viewers may find it hard to get past the grim and protracted nature of the brutal violence (although, it must be sad, it never gets as nasty as Martyrs). That violence would be less of a problem if it felt like there was more to the characters, and indeed the story.
The monsters here (one of whom is problematic in their depiction) want to keep the women in a doll-like state of pre-adolescence and anyone who progresses past that is punished repeatedly, but rather than explore that in any meaningful way, Laugier seems more interested in structural tricks and set dressing. It feels like there is something interesting underneath the messiness and ugliness of Incident In A Ghostland, and there are some genuine scares (and one strange little dream sequence that’s oddly charming) but you may not have the patience to go looking.