World War II has become a regular stomping ground for horror, be they in the Son Of Saul mould or something more in the way of schlock. Horrors involving Nazis usually fall into the second category, especially if zombies are involved but, although they’re essentially the enemy in Eric Bress’s Ghosts Of War, the five soldiers at the centre of the action have other forces to contend with.
In occupied France in 1944, they’re charged with defending a strategically important chateau, previously the Nazis’ regional headquarters, but as they take over from another group of soldiers, it’s patently obvious that there’s something nasty lurking within its walls. Strange noises and apparitions, a strong sense of déjà vu and communications full of foreboding from another world all make it apparent that this is a house with a terrible history. The soldiers soon find out why – and it’s no spoiler to say that there’s not a zombie in sight.
What it boils down to is a haunted house movie, just set in World War II. When the soldiers eventually catch sight of the reasons for all the shenanigans – none of which come of much as a surprise, as the clues have already been scattered liberally – the shadow of recent Spanish horror movies hangs over proceedings. And the result is a reasonably efficient and entertaining, if predictable, nerve jangler. Admittedly, your nerves won’t jangle very loudly, but it’s an unexpectedly enjoyable experience and the young cast hold things together nicely, even if they don’t quite reach the level of camaraderie that the film really needs. And there’s enough gore and jump moments for those who like that sort of thing, even though your knuckles probably won’t change colour.
So far, so effective enough – until the final third. We’re set up for a conclusion in one particular direction, then Bress veers off in a completely different, and incomprehensible, one. Initially, there’s the promise that it might all make sense, followed by the sinking feeling that goes with the “it was all a dream” cliché. Thankfully, it doesn’t go there, but it still leaves the audience feeling confused and frustrated, and all the more so because there’s clear potential for it to both make sense and still be imaginative.
There’s something strangely old fashioned about Ghosts Of War, not just in terms of its setting but in the soldiers themselves and the haunted house trope, which Bress does nothing to change or re-invent. It’s probably just as well, given what he comes up with for the final act, which is quite simply a muddle.
Horror, War | Cert: 18 | Digital, 17 July 2020 | Vertigo Releasing | Dir. Eric Bress | Brenton Thwaites, Skylar Astin, Alan Ritchson, Kyle Gallner, Theo Rossi, Billy Zane.