Directed by H.P. Mendoza
It’s hard for filmmakers to legitimately scare people. It’s easy to make them laugh or cry, but to scare them, that’s an entirely different ball of wax. And I’m not talking about the cheap scare…where someone or something comes launching into the scene accompanied by a huge crash of orchestra music or a booming sound effect. That’s not scaring someone; that’s giving them a minor coronary. To truly scare the audience, you have to unsettle them, make them uncomfortable, and it’s one of the most difficult things to do. With I Am a Ghost, writer/director H.P. Mendoza manages to pull this off.
Mendoza sets a creepy tone as we meet Emily. We discover that she is a ghost, living an existence that constantly repeats itself as she’s an unsettled spirit trapped in a loop. Also, she has no idea that she’s dead. The film revolves around her frequent communications with Sylvia, a medium from the world of the living who comes to Emily as a voice she hears in her bedroom, trying to guide her out of the house she’s living in and help her cross over to the other side. It’s very similar to the theory behind Beetlejuice without the comedic element or Winona Ryder performing Jump in the Line.
I Am a Ghost begins as a series of scenes of Emily going about her normal routine, unaware that she’s a spirit. It isn’t until the voice of the medium initially comes through that we understand exactly what we are dealing with. The film does begin quite slowly, taking a long time with many repetitive scenes to illustrate to the viewer exactly what is happening. This makes the movie drag a bit, but viewers will eventually be rewarded for plowing through the repetitive early scenes as we begin to learn more and more about Emily, who doesn’t seem to be remembering the events of her life (and death) quite accurately.
Watching I Am a Ghost is like watching a time-lapse video of a flower opening. The true story behind the film slowly, slowly reveals itself as the movie moves on. The medium helps Emily uncover the truth about herself, which is the only way she’ll be able to loosen herself from her ghostly shackles and cross over into the next plane of existence. But it isn’t going to be easy because there is something wicked waiting for Emily. It’s a perfect example of “this is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Aside from the medium, whom we never see, and another character that appears briefly at the end of the film, Anna Ishida as Emily is the only person in the film. She is able to carry the entire picture in much the same way as Ryan Reynolds did in Buried. Certainly no easy task, but the character of Emily is intriguing enough to keep the viewer interested.
Which brings us to the scare. Honestly, the entire film is constructed to launch the huge payoff in the finale, which is well worth the wait. Without revealing the surprise at the end, let me just say the last couple of minutes of this film gave me the same uncomfortable pit in my stomach I had while watching the final scene of [REC] for the first time. That’s pretty high praise. There is some incredible sound effects work that really puts the final few minutes of the film over the top and gives it that absolutely unsettling effect. There are some visual effects in the film as well; they are minimal but quite effective when used.
I Am a Ghost deserves a viewing. It’s a ghost story in its essence, but there are certainly aspects of a mystery in there and, of course, the true horror of the finale. The choppy, repetitiveness of the beginning of the film, although necessary to tell the story, does drag the viewing experience down, which is unfortunate, because when this movie gets going, it’s very intriguing…and it ends with a bang!
3 1/2 out of 5