▶︎ A Ghost Waits is streaming on Arrow Player.
This refreshing, surprising ghost story opens with a scene that could come from an Insidious knock-off, as a family are driven from an isolated, affordable house by a spectral presence. Enter a character type who all too rarely figures in haunted house movies – handyman Jack (MacLeod Andrews), who fixes up vacated properties for the next tenants.
A kind of phantom himself, Jack is forced out of his own apartment while his building is fumigated, and is homeless because none of the people he tries to cadge couch-space from bothers to call him back. Having slipped into a kind of marginal existence, caring for places he has no emotional or financial investment in, he’s disconnected from humanity.
Muriel (Natalie Walker), a pale-faced ghost who looks like a demented silent movie heroine, haunts Jack with a familiar repertoire – objects that move when he’s looking away, strange sounds in the night, disturbing dreams. She gloats when he’s driven from the house, but softens when he comes back because he literally has nowhere else to go – then they start talking.
Debuting director Adam Stovall, who also co-wrote with star Andrews (of the underrated They Look Like People) and Matt Taylor, riffs slightly on previous supernatural romances. There are nods to classics The Ghost and Mrs Muir and BeetleJuice, and parallels with recent essays A Ghost Story and The Witch in the Window, but A Ghost Waits has its own distinct, winning personality. Shot in chilly monochrome, it stresses pale whites rather than stark shadows – in horror, only Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr has really taken this approach before – to create a limbo-like backdrop for a relationship between living and dead spectres.
Muriel, like Jack, has a remote boss who doesn’t feel obliged to explain the point of the job she’s doing in the house. The writing and playing of the central characters is exceptional, with Jack intrigued enough by Muriel to ask the questions anyone would think of putting to a ghost – “Does it really bother you when we speak ill of the dead?” This prompts Muriel to question her own place in an unknowable scheme.
A rich film in character and thematic strokes, it keeps doing unusual things. It’s rare for a screen hero to express satisfaction in doing a blue-collar job well, for instance – making this an interesting contrast with Girl on the Third Floor, a spook story in which an amateur, inept handyman provokes a female ghost to wrath rather than sympathy. For much of its running time, it could be a sitcom pilot, but the story leads to a challenging conclusion which shifts wry romance back into desolate horror at least for a spell – before a splendid, rapid-fire montage payoff brings in a host of new, briefly glimpsed hauntees.
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