I’m just going to say it. There’s a lot of pretentiousness in the theater world. I’m sure lovers of theater look down on us common movie folk. Sure, in movies, we have our standard bearers like Scorsese and Lynch. In theater, they have the uppity Shakespeare and Sondheim. In my high school, the theater kids were just as cool as the jocks (not really). I just couldn’t get over the feeling that the theater kids always looked down on the rest of us. As if they had these inside jokes they told amongst themselves, yet to the average outsider, these jokes were really stupid.
John Stimpson’s Ghost Light brings a little theater pretension to film in a little exercise of “What If.” In this case, what if a theater group violates one of theater’s greatest superstitions and in so doing, unleashes the supernatural consequences involved in uttering the word “Macbeth” in a theater unless you’re performing William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This has to be a big deal, right?
Ghost Light is both a horror/comedy that takes Shakespeare’s curse head-on. A group of traveling actors descends upon a small New England theatre to produce their version of Macbeth. The cast includes shining star Alex Pankhurst (Cary Elwes) taking on the lead role of Macbeth, his wife Liz Beth (Shannyn Sossamon) as Lady Macbeth and rival actor Tom Riley (Thomas Ingram). Tom is insanely jealous that veteran hack Alex is leading this production. He not only wants to steal the part away from Alex but he actually steals his wife, Liz, in the process.
“…unleashes the supernatural consequences involved in uttering the word ‘Macbeth’ in a theater…”
After arriving at the theater, Tom and Liz sneak off alone to the main stage for a gripe session and adulterous cuddling. In his passionate disdain for Alex, Tom defiantly screams “Macbeth” several times. When the couple leaves, the ghost light on the stage goes out (another superstition I suppose).
As mentioned before Ghost Light is a horror/comedy, but really needed to choose one over the other. It waters down both genres until it transforms itself into a weak drama. The horror is rarely scary, except for a few feeble jump-scare attempts. The comedy barely induces a titter. The dialogue makes efforts to feel real but comes of a stilted and inauthentic.
One thing Ghost Light has going for it is a fantastic cast of theater’s finest supporting actors. Cary Elwes plays handsome and dashing very well. But his portrayal of the ignorant buffoon comes off as cartoonish, similar to his performance in Liar Liar. Ingram and Sossamon are good as Tom and Liz, respectively. They keep their performances grounded. They perform a decent jealous love triangle, but the film waffles back and forth between who the actual villain of the film is. Our sympathies constantly change from lead to lead to the point that we no longer care who comes out on top.
“…dropping needed exposition…provide moments of levity, and sneak around the theater like Scooby-Doo.”
Along for the ride are the play’s director Henry (Roger Bart) and Archie (Scott Adsit), veteran stage actors Madeline (Carol Kane) and Elliot (Steve Tom) and the rest of the cast. As a fan of each of these actors, I wish they had better material for this all-star team-up. Their roles are relegated to dropping needed exposition about theater traditions, provide moments of levity, and sneak around the theater like Scooby-Doo. All of them give good, solid performances, but what a waste of their time and talent.
I’ve been accused before of being too harsh on films I am not passionate about or films that I don’t “get.” But Ghost Light just feels like it’s trying to address something important to theater folk, but really is not a big deal. Assuming that’s true, Ghost Light just chooses to play it safe. It just felt like this fun exercise for everyone involved, while offers nothing to the audience that came to watch it.
Ghost Light (2018) Directed by John Stimpson. Written by John Stimpson, Geoffrey Taylor. Starring Cary Elwes, Shannyn Sossamon, Danielle Campbell, Carol Kane, Tom Riley, Scott Adsit, Roger Bart.
4 out of 10 stars