Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In short: Ghostkeeper (1981)

Warning: spoilers ahead

While on winter holidays, Jenny (Riva Spier), her boyfriend Marty (Murray Ord) and Chrissy (Sheri McFadden) get lost exploring the snowy mountainside beyond the lodge they are staying at.

Because it’s turning dark and the snow is getting heavier, they are happy to stumble upon an old hotel that seems to have been empty for years. It seems like a good place to shack up in for the night, particularly since it is heated. The heating does of course suggest that someone is still living here but a cursory search doesn’t bring up anyone. At first at least. In truth, an elderly woman (Georgie Collins) is watching the protagonists’ every move and seems to be rather entertained by the show.

Jenny and Marty, you see, have one of those “open relationships” that consists of him fucking around as much as he wants while Jenny’s supposed to pretend she doesn’t notice. If she does, she gets the full paternalistic bullcrap, is berated for “not owning him”, for sharing his bank account, as well as for her fear of one day losing her mind like her dead mother. All that, after an evening of Marty and Chrissy salivating at each other in the least pleasant way possible.

Things will change for Jenny soon enough, though I’m not sure if “being chosen by a crazy old woman to become the caretaker of the wendigo possessed lumberjack locked up in the ice cellar” is that much preferable to being Marty’s girlfriend. Actually, I’m positive it is. Plus, at least Marty and Chrissy get killed in unpleasant ways, so that’s something, right?

Jim Makichuk’s Ghostkeeper very much plays out like the Canadian version of US local cinema - the more ambitious sort that tries to give its characters interesting psychological underpinnings its script can’t quite sell.

It’s a fine little film, mind you, mixing its own version of the Wendigo legend (always a favourite with me) with elements of the slasher, the crazy old lady movie, and some left-over 70s psychobabble in a very Canadian way. It’s a pretty slow film, with much of its running time taken over by people running, creeping and walking through the empty hotel, sometimes through the snow. It’s quite atmospheric running and creeping, though, Makichuk making much of the empty lodge he’s filming in - hitting the spot where a comparatively quotidian place becomes threatening by virtue of emptiness and isolation nicely - some creative lighting choices and the weight of the snow surrounding the place. Well, and the crazy people feeding their cellar cannibal, though they are somewhat polite about it.

For my – perhaps overly specific - tastes, a sense of place as strong as the one evoked in Ghostkeeper can be plenty enough to make a horror film entertaining and evocative. Add to that a favourite monster, decent acting, moments of sudden weirdness, and lots of snow, and you have a film I’m bound to enjoy quite a bit.

Your mileage, etc, etc.

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