Nicolas Cage’s return to horror in this 2015 offering is not as laughably bad as the The Wicker Man remake or as pointless as Ghost Rider, but Pay the Ghost is more humdrum hokum than real horror. Based on the novel by Tim Lebbon, a screenplay by Dan Kay and directed by Uli Edel the film is about a child stolen from his father at a Halloween carnival.
Cage plays Mike Lawford, a university professor who has just made tenure. His wife Kristen is Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead, Colony) and Charlie, their son, is played by Jack Fulton (a busy young actor with 25 credits under his belt).
Predictably, the loss of Charlie pushes the parents apart and it appears that Mike, after lackadaisically teaching his literature course, puts up fliers and pushes the police to find his son. With only days to go before Halloween, the one year anniversary of Charlie’s “kidnapping,” Lawford sees Charlie on a bus.
The man chases the bus and after boarding it heads to the seat where he saw Charlie. Mike finds it empty. As he leaves the bus, a vulture captures Mike’s attention and following the scavenger he finds the words “Pay the Ghost” spray-painted on a derelict building.
“Pay the Ghost” was the last thing that Charlie said to Lawford prior to his disappearing. Mike follows clues and learns of an old curse, of course, where a woman who was burned at the stake, along with her children cursed the area.
Not having read the source material for this film it is difficult to say whether it suffers from the same miss-mash of plots and other film storylines and devices that the film does. Pay the Ghost feels like a recipe to some over-made cocktail: One part The Turn of the Screw, one part Poltergeist, or Insidious, a dash of Ringu and just a whiff of The Shining.
There is nothing blazingly original here. One spends more time wondering if Cage was ill while making the film since he appears to be suffering from Tom Cruise’s recent ailment of overly puffy features. (Cage also seems to be wearing a hairpiece or is sporting the world’s worst haircut)
This is not to say the film is boring, but is does lack any real scary or horrific moments. Granted the film’s genre is listed as Drama, Mystery and Thriller but this may be a way to save face as the plots elements scream out horror. Unfortunately the film itself falls short of delivering any real disturbing or scary moments.
In fact, the scariest, most horrible, part of the entire film is when Mike Lawford closes his hand around air and discovers his son is gone. A close second comes when the beat cop at the carnival/fair seems more concerned about keeping the professor calm than helping the man find his son.
Pay the Ghost is a pale imitation of other the other films in the cocktail shaker, as the movie nears the third act a medium/psychic is brought in and she moves the plot forward to get Mike Lawford ready to play saviour.
The film itself has characters that are never really allowed to become more than cardboard cutouts. It feels as though the film’s director had problems deciding what the movie’s focus should really be. Considering the movies distribution was a combination of VoD and limited theatrical release it appears that even the studio felt let down at the final product.
Pay the Ghost is currently streaming on Netflix and this feels like the appropriate place for a film that is neither fish nor fowl. It could have been an outright horror film, albeit not a blazingly original one, as it had the propensity to be scary rather than just mildly interesting.
This is a 3 star film, nothing too exciting yet not so abysmal that one should avoid it completely. Best seen with a bowl of popcorn, a glass of fizzy and low expectations.