Regular readers may have noticed a decidedly British slant on this blog. I say film instead of movie, the times at which I make these posts make a lot more sense if you’re running on GMT and for reasons I can’t quite ascertain, Australians seem to dislike to me.
So, with my Britishness in mind, you won’t be too surprised to hear that I keep a close eye on anything from this side of the pond doing well on the festival circuit. Upon hearing of the slew of awards being granted to Simon Pearce’s Judas Ghost, (based on the best-selling Ghost Finders series of novels by Simon R Green) I was on the case to check it out for myself. Is it really the Best of British? Read on...
JUDAS GHOST (2013)
Dir: Simon Pearce
Starring: Martin Delaney, Simon Merrells, Lucy Cudden, Alexander Perkins, Grahame Fox
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I’ll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.
Judas Ghost follows a team of Ghost Finders dispatched by the Carnacki Institute to investigate a haunting in a local village hall. Consisting of cocky and quick-witted team leader Jerry (Delaney), cool and confident clairvoyant Anna (Cudden), and nervous and funny tech-support Ian (Perkins), the group are joined by damaged former agent Mark (Merrells) who will act as cameraman to document the mission for training purposes.
This training video gives us a quick insight into the sorts of problems these Ghost Finders deal with on a daily basis, but this is not an everyday haunting. Finding themselves trapped in the village hall by ever encroaching shadowy forces, the team have to work out exactly what it is they are up against before it is too late…
BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning):
The positive that leapt out at me first was the tremendously well-realised universe that this film takes part in. This only makes perfect sense, it takes place within the same fictional word as New York Times best-selling author Simon R Green’s Ghost Finders novels, so it has a wealth of richness and established lore. From the classifications of haunting to the arcane methods of dealing with these entities, the Carnacki Institute and its shadowy mission feels substantial. By the way, as a fan of William Hope Hodgeson’s Thomas Carnacki stories, the name alone gave me a fantastic thrill. It’s a lovely touch from Green. If this is just the first in a series of Ghost Finders films, I for one will be very pleased.
That isn’t to say that the story of this initial effort needs further expansion — quite the opposite in fact. The story is well told and self-contained, with a coherent, intelligent plot that fills in each and every gap slowly and meticulously, using intelligently used flashbacks and well-crafter dialogue to ensure that the viewer is never left behind.
Speaking of flashbacks, I particularly enjoyed those shown to depict the classifications of haunting. In fact one contained a truly superb jump-scare that certainly worked for me!
Of course a strong story cannot support a film alone; it needs a strong cast to help anchor it in human emotion, characters to give the audience somebody to identify with. In Judas Ghost the cast is quite brilliant across the board. Not only does each actor understand exactly what is required of their character, they have the chops and confidence to bring it to the screen. Each character has an arc, and each of the leads fully brings that arc to fruition.
It really is tough to single out any one member for praise because they are all fantastic. From Delaney’s early likeable-arrogance to Perkins’ perfectly timed comic delivery, everybody is on top of their game throughout. The performances of both Cudden and Merrells invest some heavy emotion in key scenes and the chilling appearance of Grahame Fox as the titular spook is legitimately frightening. I see that the immensely talented Delaney is already picking up Best Actor awards for his portrayal of Jerry — I predict he’ll be getting plenty more in the months ahead.
Finally, I really want to praise the fantastic effects work in the film. Made on a shoestring budget and limited to one primary setting for the vast majority of the film’s runtime, the last thing you would expect from this film is some topnotch visual effects work. However, I’m delighted to say that is what you get here in Judas Ghost. There are some very ambitious CGI shots in this film and, for the most part, they all work perfectly. This combined with assured direction and Pearce’s clear vision transform this single set into a suitably ghoulish location for the nightmarish events of the film.
WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning):
Judas Ghost is one of the harder films I’ve had to critique because I really enjoyed so much of it.
I had a couple of very minor gripes, but nothing hugely substantial. In fact it seems that both come from the comparatively short runtime of the film (it clocks in at just 75 minutes).
I could have done with a little more backstory for all of our leads. There were implied connections and experiences that I would have loved to see fleshed out onscreen. The most important things were there, but at times it felt like certain scenes had ended up on the cutting room floor that could have enriched this area further.
Also, after a rather harrowing and terrifying night, it seemed our final cast members solved (and resolved) the problem rather abruptly. It boasted a fine performance from everybody involved and equally impressive effects work, but it seemed to wrap up very quickly indeed. It feels as if the film could have used an extra 10 minutes to allow a couple of things to breathe, but I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that it became a serious problem to the film. It’s just my humble opinion.
VERDICT: Judas Ghost is picking up award after award at the moment and having watched it, I completely understand why. It has an excellent, creepy story; a top-notch cast; a fantastically rich fictional world and is brilliantly shot by a very talented director. I asked if Judas Ghost was the Best of British? Of course, but I’ll go one step further too — Judas Ghost is one of the best horror films I’ve seen this year from either side of the Atlantic. Bring on more Carnacki Institute adventures!
You can check out the film at various festivals. Get yourself out there, or alternatively you’ll be able to pick up the DVD or watch the film On Demand in April. While you wait, why not head over to the film’s official Facebook page and hit it with a Like. The team over at Fallen Shadows Productions deserve it!
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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.