When a single mother and her two children move to a new town, they soon discover they have a connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind…
Review by Tim Robins
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an entirely enjoyable adventure for twelve-year-olds and the early teens. Directed by Jason Reitman, the film has been subject to unfair criticism possibly because, like the 2016 reboot, now marketed as Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the film has set up expectations for those for whom the original Ghostbusters is a beloved moment in cinema history that the new re-launch cannot fulfil.
The story is simple enough. Egon Spengler’s daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) inherits her estranged father’s farm outside the bathetically named ‘Sunnyville’. After being evicted, she takes a road trip across America to her father’s haunted estate. Once there, her children, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace), become drawn into the mystery of their grandfather’s death, a haunted mine and strange earthquakes preceding the re-manifestation of Gozo.
The film’s emotional core involves the youngsters finding friendship, being validated and their mom reconciling her relationship with her father, while developing an emotional interest in the form of a local Summer School teacher, Gary Grooberson (played by the ever amiable Paul Rudd).
Reitman the younger has said that echoes of his own interests in family relations can be found in the film, but the relationship tropes are rather over-familiar.
The cast are all up to their irritatingly stereotypical roles. Phoebe’s character is endearing, but her interest is something called “science” (an abstract thing which often features in the UK government’s response to COVID-19) is signified in entirely conventional ways – she wears glasses, plays chess and finds herself a misfit at summer school, where most of her peers are satisfied with watching horror movies instead of learning anything on the actual syllabus.
Reitman’s direction is fine, although there’s a curiously shot scene in which the children don’t seem to be occupying the same room as a solicitor visiting their new home. And there’s a weak, early montage of travelling across America scenes and an exposition scene, where the young characters spell out the entire situation for audiences who have lost or given up on the plot.
That said, the direction is nothing if not clear and captures some of the beauty of the American countryside.
Even the guest appearances of many of the original cast should not lull you into the sense this is anything like the original in tone. Ghostbusters (1984) was, in retrospect, a one hit wonder. Although some aspects of the movie don’t stand the test of time, its goofball humour and good-time ghost hunting has proved hard to replicate, even in its OK sequel. Personally, I never entirely “got” the film on first release but I know it is beloved by those who did.
The film was remade in 2016 with an excellent cast of comediennes, let down by a poor script that failed to follow through on its premise. A marketing campaign designed to play-up the feminism-light tone of the film only succeeded in turning an amiable romp into a hate object among misogynistic internet trolls.
Critics have damned the production for its nostalgic tone. Roger Ebert.com’s review of the film declares: “Behold the craven exercise in hollow nostalgia that is Ghostbusters: Afterlife!”. But Ghostbusters: Afterlife really isn’t a nostalgic movie. Yes, it is shot like a hazy memory of 1980’s nostalgia for the 1950s. Yes, the film’s denouement and mid-end credit scene may bring a teary eye from showing what time has done to some of the original cast. But the cameos have the feel of being tacked on and perhaps dependent on the cast’s ability and willingness to return to the production.
Indeed, the majority of the young audience are unlikely to be nostalgic for a decade in which they never lived, and for a film that they are unlikely to have seen.
Jason Reitman has spoken of giving Ghostbusters back to the fans. In reality, I’d argue he has tried to give Sony back an exploitable intellectual property.
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