Ghost Son (2007)

John Hannah and Pete Postlethwaite star in Lamberto Bava's well made horror film. Xenon Pictures US R1 DVD.

The Film

In contemporary South Africa, young American vistor Stacey has falled madly in love with Mark, a horse farmer in a rural ranch. When he is killed in an accident Stacey stays to run the ranch and soon discovers that she is pregnant, but she starts to have visions of Mark which seem to be encouraging her towards suicide so that she can join him. When her child is born, she becomes terrified that his spirit has possessed the baby...

Lamberto Bava is one of those second or third generation film makers forever condemned to live in the shadow of their fathers - in this case the Italian horror maestro Mario Bava (Black Sunday (1960)). Unfortunately for Lamberto Bava, his directoral career began as Italian genre cinema began to slump and most of his output consisted of ultra-low-budget productions like Devil Fish (1984). In 2005 he came out of semi-retirement to helm his first films in over a decade, gory horror The Torturer (2005) and this film. Co-written by Bava, Ghost Son seems to be a rather loose remake of Mario Bava's Shock (1977) which Lamberto himself wrote and partly directed - the central concept of a child being possessed by a deceased partner and some of the visual scares are the same - although this is the only reference that Bava makes to his earlier productions and the film is refreshingly free of the self-aware, tribute heavy stylings of many modern horrors. By replacing the young boy of Shock with a baby, it is a premise that by all rights should be the plot of a daft horror-comedy project, but the writers treat it throughout with an ernest seriousness and manage to create a genuinely terrifying atmosphere.

The opening chapter shows the relationship between Mark and Stacey although it is quite briefly covered - some viewers might be disappointed that more detail of their relationship is not explored (we never even find out why she is in Africa), but such information would be unnecessary to the film as a whole and it could have risked becoming bogged down. The scenes following Mark's death are treated very well, the script effectively captures the desperate sadness of her sudden loss and uses, for the only time in the film, a non-linear structure to show Stacey's confused state of mind, sequences that would be at home in an art-house romance. The subsequent appearances of Mark are presented initially as pleasant memories and fantasies, as one would expect in a romantic film, but they soon become very dark as he encourages her towards suicide. From here on in, the script never really lets up on the creepy atmosphere and after the birth of the child the film becomes relentlessly terrifying and disturbing as Mark's spirit seems to possess the baby - daylight scenes come as a welcome but all too short respite from the terror as the film builds to a highly effective climax (if perhaps slightly rushed at the finish) and a neat if unnecessary coda.

Although his cinematic output is often derided as trash, Bava displays a veteran's hand behind the camera here, showing an old-school sensibility in the horror sequences - he eschews the modern trends for hyperactive camerawork or CGI-fueled mayhem. Subtlety is the key to making the whole thing so much more believable and some of the most effectively scary scenes are those where the possessed child is merely glimpsed in the background of a scene. Bava does employ a number of well timed jump shocks, combining those with a long-build up and some which appear completely out of the blue, to keep the audience on edge. Much like his father's films, Bava utilises a variety of unconventional camera-angles which really help to build up an atmosphere, even in the early scenes. A highly effective soundtrack provides a solid underscoring to the atmosphere that the film builds up.

Scottish actor John Hannah takes the lead role and gives a remarkably strong performance, able to convince as both a loving husband and the hate filled spectral image he becomes. Pete Postlethwaite affects a good South African accent in the key supporting role of 'Doc'. The toughest part is played by Laura Harring as Stacey and her performance in the haunting scenes is solid, but her reaction to Mark's death in the scenes immediately following it do not quite seem to ring true.

With a daft sounding premise, a cheesy title and a director more commonly associated with low budget trashy films from the 1980s, nothing about Ghost Son should work, yet it comes together as one of the most effective horror films of the past decade. A well written script keeps up the relentless atmosphere with no respite, aided immeasurably by a solid directoral hand, strong acting and a good soundtrack.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? John Hannah - Scottish actor who has recently appeared in the series Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010).
Pete Postlethwaite - a very widely travelled English actor who appeared in a number of major films
Directed by anyone interesting? Lamberto Bava - made a number of low budget films in the 1980s including A Blade in the Dark (1983) but his best from the era were the Demons (1984) films produced by Dario Argento.
Any gore or violence? Nothing vivid.
Any sex or nudity? Some short female and male nude scenes.
Who is it for? Of general interest to all modern horror fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print generally good with no damage, although it is a little soft, possibly a PAL to NTSC transfer.
Audio English 5.1 and 2.0 - both sound strong
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Bonus trailers for Hood of Horror (2006) and Blood Ranch (2006)
Region Region 1 (US, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Released by DFW in the Netherlands with English audio and Dutch subtitles.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 26th September 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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