Pay the Ghost Movie Review
Written by Greg Fisher
Released by RLJ Entertainment
Directed by Uli Edel
Written by Dan Kay, based on Tim Lebbon's novella
2015, 94 minutes, Not Rated
Released theatrically and on VOD on September 25th, 2015
Nicolas Cage as Mike Lawford
Sarah Wayne Callies as Kristen
Veronica Ferres as Hannah
Lyriq Bent as Jordan
Lauren Beatty as Annie Sawquin
Pay the Ghost is a movie. No, I didn't forget an adjective, and I didn't prematurely end the sentence. This is the most anyone is ever going to really say about it. It is a thing that was made. It's not good, and it isn't necessarily bad. It just sits there, being what it is.
Pay the Ghost breaks absolutely no new ground. In some ways, I've seen the movie one hundred times before. It's like any other mundane thriller/horror that has come out in the past twenty years. The main difference it has from those is that it boasts two brand name leads and a decent budget, but neither of those contribute anything to make this movie memorable.
The plot, adapted by Dan Kay from the novella of the same name by Tim Lebbon, is that Mike, a newly tenured professor and always negligent husband and father, loses his son during a Halloween parade, shortly after his son cryptically asks his father "Can we pay the ghost?" Cut to a year later, with Mike's career stalled and marriage in ruins, his only passion is the search for his lost son. The script does its job, mostly. There are no glaringly bad lines, but the pacing is ineffective and wildly uneven, and events unfold less from the hard work of the parents trying to find their child than from the parents haphazardly stumbling into people and places that get them closer to their son. In the same vein, director Uli Edel doesn't do anything awful to ruin the movie, but none of his choices make the movie any better either. The most glaring mistake he makes is an overreliance on digital effects such as CGI vultures and digitally added backgrounds that fool no one. He's not a first time director, which shows, but he does nothing to imprint himself upon this movie, which makes sense, because it is clear that the only thing this movie is supposed to be is a Nicolas Cage movie, and that's where the real problem lies.
Please, do not get me wrong. Cage does an admittedly good job on this movie. There is no trace of the manic Cage that everyone likes to make fun of, especially from The Wicker Man. The main reason for this is because this movie is a basic rehashing of that movie. Cage and his ex search for their lost child, and become involved with a Celtic cult that specializes in burnings. The difference is that the rural greenery of The Wicker Man is traded for a cheap knockoff of the decaying city from Candyman. Cage learned from The Wicker Man though. He delivers a solid, believable performance, perhaps the only one of the movie. The real reason he is the biggest problem for the movie is because he should have never been cast in the role. I do not buy that 50-year-old Nicolas Cage is running around with 37-year-old Sarah Wane Callies trying to find their six-year-old son. Cage, at this point in his career, is a little too paunchy, and his face a little too droopy to pull off the father of a young child. Edel having been so deadset on casting Cage, should have reworked the script to where the child was the son of Cage's much younger sister, or, god forbid, Cage finally steps in and accepts that he is old enough to play a grandfather. Cage just doesn't look the part anymore, and it shows as he runs just a bit slower and with a longer gait that his days in The Rock. It's not his fault, but Edel's, and Cage does his best to carry the film. However, as with the plot, I just never was able to suspend disbelief. These things are only compounded with the woodenly doe eyed performance of Callies as Cage's estranged wife and the token bad child actor performance of Jack Fulton as their son.
All these things being said, there's nothing terrible about the movie. It is so innocuous that it simply cannot draw ire, but in the same token, I won't remember having seen it in a very short amount of time.