Ghost Light Movie Review
Written by Greg Fisher
Released by Giant Pictures
Directed by John Stimpson
Written by John Stimpson and Geoffrey Taylor
2018, 102 minutes, Not Rated
Roger Bart as Henry Asquith
Tom Riley as Thomas Ingram
Shannyn Sossamon as Liz Beth Stevens
Danielle Campbell as Juliet Miller
Cary Elwes as Alex Pankhurst
Carol Kane as Madeline Styne
Steve Tom as Elliot Wadsworth
Scott Adsit as Archie MacIntosh
Ghost Light is a comedy/horror that will surely be a staple of the college drama/community theater crowd. This is not for the reason that it is an overwhelmingly well-made and thoroughly well-executed piece of cinema, but for the fact that it was written seemingly exactly for that audience. Fifteen years ago, when I was in my theater heyday, this movie would have been IT, completely capitalized. I would have seen myself and castmates in the characters, trying to revive a backwoods theater with their reverent take on MacBeth. Did they really have two, not one, but TWO actors say MacBeth in a theater? Is there really a love triangle between the actors playing MacBeth, Banquo, and Lady MacBeth? Is that too on the nose, or just perfect? It takes that level of buying in to gloss over the inadequacies on display, though. John Stimpson spends exactly zero time laying out the rules of the theater, including the titular ghost light, as well as the superstitions of the Scottish play itself, which he cheekily breaks not once, but twice within two minutes of outlining them.
The premise is simple, which leads to a streamlined and straightforward horror/comedy. A theater troupe travels to a long-abandoned theater in the outskirts of a town. They are intent on reopening it and making a name for themselves with a performance for the ages. Infighting, jealousy, and the murky history of the theater itself conspire to made sure that none of them will be alive to see that become a reality.
Most notable about Ghost Light is the cast, a who's who of B to C list actors. Carey Elwes (The Bride; A Haunting in Cawdor) plays the patriarchal, been-there-done-that ham actor that has been born for the lead role of MacBeth, at least in his mind. He chews the scenery, costumes, sets, and most tertiary characters. Shannyn Sossamon (Sinister 2) plays his cheating, sultry wife who speaks almost exclusively in a breathless rasp, and Tom Riley seethes though every scene as the hot younger actor who thinks the lead should be his, and is also sleeping with Sossamon's Liz. Roger Bart plays the ubiquitous past-his-prime-yet-used-to-be-cool director, endlessly put upon by his kooky cast. Carol Kane (When a Stranger Calls Back) and Steve Tom play the elder statesmen of the crew, namedropping theatrical elite and with a story for every moment. Kane, in particular, spares no expense in her attempts to out maneuver Elwes for King of Hams, and as she's built her entire career on that platform, he has his work cut out for him. Throw in a vintage frazzled Scott Adsit performance and two quirky Quebecois ladies who help run the theater, and there is little to complain about as far as the acting.
What brings the whole production down to earth is the script by Stimpson and Taylor. In the first ten minutes, the audience is told why the ghost light is a thing for the theater and must never go out, and why actors never say the name MacBeth in a theater except during a performance. Of course, both things are immediately done, setting off the string of events for the movie. Like the inciting incidents, the ones that follow are much too on the nose as well. Liz cannot get blood off of her hands that only she sees, much as Lady MacBeth does. Apparitions and "weird sisters" plague the cast, showing up at random to give visions and stir the pot. Everything is too tongue-in-cheek, and much too neat, which is great for the crowd this movie is written for, but it is too off-putting for the rest of the audience.
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