At the risk of making a blatantly-obviously statement, we live in a media-obsessed society. The increase of mass media, the ease of obtaining information, the compulsion of the internet, all promised to bring us closer together, but have instead pushed us further apart. Anonymity has given way to the ultimate existentialism of detached irony and desensitization to even basic emotion. Sarcasm has replaced wit, sour grapes have replaced the milk of human kindness (not to put too fine a point on it).
In Chad Ferrin’s “The Ghouls”, Eric Hayes (Timothy Muskatell) is a stringer, the lowliest form of photo journalist (which aesthetically justifies the movie’s video format). He’s the videographer-equivalent of an ambulance chaser. Wherever there is tragedy, Hayes will be there, camera fused to his face to capture the moment of the subject’s absolute lowest moment. He’s hypocritically reviled by the news stations who buy his footage, but they hate him no less than he hates himself. One night, in a fit of drunken self-loathing, he stumbles upon what at first appears to be a group of homeless men raping a woman. Upon further investigation, he discovers that they are man-shaped creatures, actually devouring her. These creatures live underground, the ultimate cast-offs of our disinterested society. Rather than assist the victim, he films the attack. Arriving home, he finds that he had been too drunk to load a tape into the camera.
Enlisting a fellow stringer named Clift (Trent Haaga), the pair go in search of the Ghouls, certain that this is the footage that will elevate his career, allow him to leave his meager existence behind (not, however, because he wants the creatures exposed and destroyed). His actions lead to further tragedy, and forces him to finally take a hard look at what kind of man he is – not too far from the creatures he’s been pursuing.
According to associate producer Haaga, he and Ferrin originally set out to make “’C.H.U.D.’ in L.A.” and “unfortunately” came up with much more. “The Ghouls” is a grim, unflinchingly gritty look at the underbelly of society. Like Ferrin’s previous “Unspeakable”, “The Ghouls” does not shy away from the violence and degradation. The opening credits are shown over famous news footage of a man setting his truck on fire and shooting himself on live television – footage that was repeated endlessly on the day it occurred. Not co-incidentally, the couple watching the footage are disinterested and detached, more concerned with hitting on each other than the atrocity on screen.
Unsubtle, it’s not. The dual meaning of the title will not go unnoticed by most audiences. Nor will the grotesque sensationalism of the Downs Syndrome character who steals Hayes’s camera and films his attack and rape of a neighbor. “The Ghouls” wallows in the unpleasant, which is sadly necessary in order to make a point these days. Those seeking out “’C.H.U.D.’ in L.A.” are advised to look elsewhere. Those wanting to see a horrorific example of social commentary, “The Ghouls” cannot be recommended highly enough.