There are few clichés in the pantheon of DIY horror that are more immediately recognizable than that of the cabin in the woods film. Honed to sheer perfection by Sam Raimi and later nudged back into conscience by Eli Roth, this staple of the low budget set is designed to take advantage of the readily apparent production values of a rickety old house and the dark dread of rural night. So with the inherent creepiness of isolationism and the ominous bumps and squeaks of the unknown lurking behind every tree, mood and atmosphere are a given even in the cheapest of direct to video fare, and Ghost Game doesn’t lack in the ambiance department. It’s too bad all that free set design doesn’t lend itself to a better flick.
Ghost Game has a few shining moments in its tale of a group of twenty-something friends who decide to take a weekend retreat to an isolated cabin (as if there were any other kind). It seems that 25 years earlier a small coven of witches killed each other off while trying to summon the goddess Athena. With that failure, the coven left behind a “game” designed to force future unfortunates to complete the spell or die trying. It isn’t long before our impetuous gang opens up the proverbial Pandora’s Box and unleashes the fury of the vengeful spirits. With little time remaining the group of friends must decipher the clues and gather the ingredients before they fall victim to the same fate as those who came before.
The best thing I can say for Ghost Game (and I can assure you it’s not in regards to the truly abysmal title) is that the casting is key to making the 72-minute running time speed by. The performances from the assembled group including Alexandra Barreto (WB’s Pepper Dennis) and Robert Berson (upcoming Miami Vice) makes what could have easily been a tedious hour of Acting 101 into a watchable if, muddled movie.
The biggest issue the film has set against it, and this problem is synonymous with low budget horror, is lighting. Virtually the entire film is set in the woods at night, so it is unfortunate that what might have been an effectively creepy film is mired in several nearly unintelligible scenes of sheer darkness. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse, but this is pretty bad. Regrettably, I don’t think that this is the only reason the film fails to live up to its fairly promising concept – The other problem – Editing.
Its hard enough to follow the folly of three or four campers running around in the woods in sheer darkness, but add into that scenario a coven of Goth Girls Gone Wild and between the rapid edits, suspense turns into little more than mass confusion. Where this technique succeeds – and only where- is in approximating the feeling of what the characters must be going through at any given moment. But from the viewer’s standpoint, there are just too many cuts to sustain any level of real terror.
There are some moments of interest in the film, which begins with a lot of promise and ends on a great down note, that so few filmmakers have the guts to go for. Apart from a passing curiosity, some solid acting chops, and a few instances of witty humor, Ghost Game hardly qualifies as the next Evil Dead or Cabin Fever. But, on the bright side, the film defiantly comes off better than say – a third rate attempt at making another Blair Witch Project. In the end Ghost Game only leaves us to consider…if a filmmaker fails in the woods, can anyone here their screams?