FRIGHTFEST ’20 – ‘A Ghost Waits’ is a Charming and Unique Take on the Haunted House Movie

A still from 'A Ghost Waits'. Muriel (Natalie Walker)  is a spectral figure shown here in a black and white close-up. Her face is very pale and her eyes darkened like a corpse. She has long dark hair slicked back and falling around one shoulder.
Fright Fest

Horror movies can be described as many things — terrifying, haunting, unrelenting— but rarely are they ever called “charming”. That, however, is the perfect description for A Ghost Waits, the directorial debut of NY-based filmmaker Adam Stovall.

A Ghost Waits centres around hapless maintenance man Jack (MacLeod Andrews), who temporarily moves into an abandoned house to prepare it for the arrival of its next tenants. As he gets further along in his process, strange incidents start occurring around him and he suddenly finds himself at the mercy of a mysterious “spectral agent” named Muriel (Natalie Walker) who has been tasked with driving him out of the house.

Stovall tackles a number of genres throughout the film’s 80 minute runtime, employing elements of horror, comedy, romance and drama to varying degrees of success; some of the attempts at jump scares end up falling flat and the film never manages to successfully create a sense of dread that its first act would’ve largely benefited from. The film’s strengths, however, lie in its earnestness, with every moment— every scene, painstakingly and lovingly crafted by Stovall, whose passion for genre film-making practically leaps off the screen.

A Ghost Waits wears both its heart and its influences proudly on its sleeve —according to Stovall, he was struck with the idea for the film after a conversation he had about Ghostbusters and it shows. From the comedic elements of the film to the politics behind the “spectral agency” to Andrews’ deadpan delivery which carries shades of Bill Murray’s unique brand of humour, A Ghost Waits brings to mind the same comedic sensibilities and cool, irresistible insanity of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 classic.

A still from 'A Ghost Waits'. Jack (MacLeod Andrews) is shown in closeup in black and white staring at the blurred profile of spectral figure Muriel (Natalie Walker) who is in mid speech.
Fright Fest

A Ghost Waits also recalls the compassionate, empathetic nature of Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House, with Stovall treating the ghosts in his movie with the same sensitivity that he would any of the other characters; giving them their own dreams, insecurities and fears. Walker, playing the “spectral agent” assigned to haunt the specific house in the film, turns in a phenomenal performance, establishing a terrifying presence for Muriel from the opening scene — which sees her scaring a family away from the house, setting off the events of the film — that starts to chip away as the film progresses. Her character arc, which charts her transformation from a rigid, no-nonsense woman with a singular goal into a layered, haunting portrayal of a life tragically cut short, might have fell short in the hands of any other actress but in Walker’s skilled, more-than-capable grasp, it is a poignant, rewarding journey for both the character and the audiences watching.

Andrews, on the other hand, playing the affable, more energetic foil to Walker’s cool and collected presence, is an absolute delight to watch, lighting up the screen from the moment he first appears and injecting the film with enough charm and energy to make the first act —which sees his character taking down pictures, cleaning toilets and generally going through the motions — a more enjoyable watch than it had any right to be. Behind Jack’s cheerful facade, though, is a lost, broken man who is struggling to make ends meet and Stovall uses his journey to raise a series of interesting philosophical questions about love, life and death, perfectly illustrating that to live doesn’t always mean you’re alive.

Much like its lead character, A Ghost Waits is not perfect — some of the jokes fall flat, and certain musical cues just don’t work — but that only adds to its charm. The film’s beauty is in its imperfections and its decision to embrace them instead of hiding them away. Stovall has managed to successfully create a loving ode to the horror genre, warts and all, and we all should be excited to see what he decides to tackle next.

A Ghost Waits screened at the virtual edition of Fright Fest on August 30th

by Ahmad W

Currently based in the UK and the UAE, Ahmad W. is a poster designer, budding screenwriter and journalist from Boston and the (self-proclaimed) #1 Robert Eggers stan. His favourite films include mother!, The Witch, Black Swan, Hereditary and Scream. His claim to fame is a DM he got from Ari Aster (who has since left him on read) and his favorite pastime is spending the day in a cold, half-empty movie theater. You can follow him on Twitter at @ephwinslow.

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