Ghosts of the Ozarks Movie Review

Written by Joe Haward

Released by XYZ Films

ghosts of the ozarks poster large

Directed by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long
Written by Sean Anthony Davis, Jordan Wayne Long, and Tara Perry
2021, 107 minutes, Not Rated
Released on February 3rd, 2022

Thomas Hobson as James ‘Doc’ McCune
Tara Perry as Annie
Phil Morris as Matthew McCune
Angela Bettis as Lucille
David Arquette as Douglas
Tim Blake Nelson as Torb

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It is easy to see why Ghosts of the Ozarks has such a strong lineup, boasting the likes of David Arquette (who has worked with directors Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long previously) and Tim Blake Nelson. It is a strong concept, bringing together the genres of horror and western in an interesting and entertaining way.

Set in post-Civil War Arkansas, James ‘Doc’ McCune (Thomas Hobson) travels to a walled-off town in the Ozarks, beckoned with a letter from his uncle, Matthew McCune (played by Phil Morris). Arriving at Norfork, James is introduced to a utopian community built upon acceptance, emerging technology, and the need for everyone to play their part using the gifts unique to them. There is a sense of naive wonder James carries with him, balanced with underlying uncertainty as events unfold around him. Thomas Hobson plays the role of James superbly, navigating these competing emotions with great touch and believable depth.

Ghosts of the Ozarks is strongest when it explores the ideas of a utopian society and how such ideological beliefs can never be sustained under the weight of human desire and failings. The film plays well with these ancient concepts of humans accepting their place within a community bound by laws established by powers greater than themselves. Whether it's the fall of empires, the corruption of religion, or the madness of dictators, the utopian pursuit has always fallen to the imposition of an ideology over the humanity of the community. Ghosts of the Ozarks offers an interesting take on these challenges and how, specifically, Norfork’s utopia can be maintained. There is enough suspense and mystery as these difficulties play out to hold the viewer’s attention.

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Initial wonder at the power of a welcoming and cohesive community begins to wane as an unseen fear dominates the way people live and interact with one another. This is a powerful theme that Ghosts of the Ozarks pursues. Throughout, the film echoes those often seen religious and cult behaviors of the real world, and how easy it is to manipulate people through fear of a higher power, or the threat of ostracization. David Arquette’s character, Douglas, encapsulates the very heart of this idea, struggling with his own conscience, whilst recognising the need to pursue the good of the community. The regular collaboration between Arquette, Glass, and Long clearly points to a mutual respect and enjoyment of working together, with Arquette at ease in his performance, something that serves Ghosts of the Ozarks well.

There are solid performances all around as things begin to unravel within the community. Tara Perry (also one of the film’s writers) provides the moral center as Annie, quietly assisted by her brother, William (Joseph Rudd). Torb (played by Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife, Lucille, (Angela Bettis; May, The Woman) are the heart of Norfork, the owners of the town’s bar, and a place of welcome and refuge. Yet their own secrets and ghosts hover ever-present throughout as their relationship with Matthew McCune (Phil Morris) comes sharper into focus.

The relationship between ‘Doc’ and his uncle is one of the ways Ghosts of the Ozarks stumbles. From dialogue to chemistry, the viewer is never entirely convinced that these two men have a connection of any sort. This is made more obvious as some scenes run on longer than necessary, their purpose to create greater tension and atmosphere blunted by the length.

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At times the plot lurches from scene to scene, motives obscured by poor dialogue as plot holes are attempted to be filled in, yet leave more questions. The score, by Matt Glass, is also disjointed at times, creating strange moments when the viewer is left confused as to the nature and purpose of the moments playing out. There isn’t enough meat on the bone of the plot to always carry it where it wants to go.

But Ghosts of the Ozarks doesn’t fail as a result of these flaws.

The supernatural elements, where death, mystery, and harmony exist in an uneasy balance, leave the viewer guessing until the film’s climax. As the body count rises and loyalties are chosen, Ghosts of the Ozarks hits its heights, each and every character elevating scene after scene. The finale may well split opinions, yet it reminds the viewer about the power and impact hungry ghosts play upon all our lives.

Ghosts of the Ozarks provides enough fear, enjoyable performances, fascinating ideas, and plenty of heart to make this a strong and highly watchable outing from Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long.

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Movie: 3.5 Star Rating Cover

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