Ghoul Movie Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Released by Vega, Baby! Releasing
Directed by Petr Jákl
Written by Petr Bok and Petr Jákl
2015, 91 minutes, Rated R
Released March 20th, 2015
Jeremy Isabella as Ethan
Jennifer Armour as Jenny
Paul S. Tracey as Ryan
Alina Golovlyova as Katarina
Ghoul tells the story of a group of aspiring documentary filmmakers who visit Ukraine to do a piece about cannibalism. The young American film crew consists of deadpan Ethan, the fearless leader; Jenny, the on-screen interviewer; and Ryan, the tech guy. They meet up with translator Katarina, a local guy named Valeriy who's knowledgeable about their topic, and later Inna, who identifies as a "witch" and offers to come along to provide unspecified supernatural help. (That should probably have been a red flag, but what do I know?)
The film begins as an investigation of the case of a local man named Boris Glaskov, who was accused of cannibalism (after some preliminary fluff about cannibalism under Stalin, which seems mostly unrelated). Boris evidently admitted to killing and eating somebody – under supernatural duress – but since no body was ever found, he was released. Now Boris works at a lumber yard in a remote village, and the intrepid American film crew tracks him down for an interview. He eventually agrees to talk with them (once his palms have been sufficiently greased) and hands over the key to his still more remote cabin where the alleged cannibalism took place. He tells them he'll meet them there later, and off they go.
I don't know much about Soviet-era cannibalism or contemporary Ukrainian culture, but I feel like this is a teachable moment: "CIRCLE ONE: helpful witch + admitted cannibal + isolated cabin = Good Idea / Bad Idea."
Nevertheless the crew treks out there, and they sit around waiting for Boris, then they do some drinking, then they do some Ouija-boarding (because this wouldn't be a contemporary POV horror without a Ouija board). The next morning, Boris still hasn't shown up, Valeriy the guide is gone, and Inna claims that nobody can leave because they've summoned an evil spirit with their drunken Ouijaing. Nobody believes her, and as you'd imagine, this proves to be their undoing.
This is a by-the-book found-footage horror film which proves how interchangeable both the plots and the filmmaking techniques of these things have become in the years since The Blair Witch Project. Instead of a fictional witch (besides Inna, I mean), the story very loosely incorporates the real-life serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. Otherwise the premise is essentially the same as every other supernatural found-footage horror film: young, brash filmmakers exploring a creepy topic which turns out to have unforeseen supernatural consequences. There's some running through the woods, a fair bit of cursing and screaming, the odd night vision close-up of scared faces, and people get possessed. Novel additions include the setting (Ukraine) and an entirely unnecessary scene of the main couples watching recordings of themselves having sex/masturbating (which nobody remembers) after the women discover they have mysterious unexplained wounds. Otherwise you've seen it half a dozen times.
None of this is damning, but the generic plot is not helped by wooden acting by the male leads and a main group of exceptionally unlikeable characters. The only ones who are even a little bit sympathetic are the hapless translator Katarina and the "witch" Inna, whose warnings go predictably unheeded.
Ultimately Ghoul is not a bad movie, it just doesn't stand out from the crowd of Paranormal Activity-style found footage films that seem to be all the rage these days.