Frightfest 2020 Review: A Ghost Waits
A lonely man falls in love with a ghost in Adam Stovall's haunting comedy horror
Written by Nikki Baughan
Shot in brooding black-and-white, and featuring endearing central performances from Macleod Andrews (They Look Like People) and Natalie Walker (TV’s Search Party) Adam Stovall’s A Ghost Waits is both a humorous haunted house pastiche, and a surprisingly tender exploration of isolation, loneliness and the fundamental human need for connection.
In that respect it has much in common with David Lowery’s 2017 A Ghost Story although, unlike Casey Affleck’s spectre in that film, the spirits haunting this narrative are not the silent, mournful, bed-sheet variety. Rather, the long-dead Muriel (Walker) determinedly sees off the hapless residents of “her” house by floating above them in her flowing black dress, screeching, as the black veins pop from her face and neck. As they flee in terror, she returns to Earth with a satisfied smile and restored porcelain complexion.
It’s a successful bit, until she comes up against Jack (Andrews), who has been tasked with cleaning the now-vacant house ready for its new occupants. When her usual methods — moving objects, opening doors — don’t scare him enough to leave, Muriel finds herself intrigued enough to start a conversation with him. Finding they have much in common, not least a desire to belong, Muriel and Jack are drawn together. When Muriel’s spiky boss, Spectral Advisor Ms Henry (Amanda Miller), insists that Muriel must frighten Jack away if she is to keep her home, Jack is spurred to take extreme action.
It’s clear that debut writer/director Stovall, who co-wrote the snappy screenplay with Andrews, is a horror fan; influences here range from Poltergeist (the TV turned to the wall is a nice touch) and Ringu to Amityville Horror, The Ghost & Mrs Miller and Beetlejuice. Stovall and Andrews make the film their own, however, with their sense of humour. Blue-collar worker Jack is completely unwilling to be haunted, and that no-nonsense approach leads to some genuinely funny moments; a montage of rapid-fire questions that he fires at Muriel — “does God exist, do you guys really care when we speak ill of you” — is a particular highlight.
Yet, underneath this comedy, A Ghost Waits mines a more emotional seam. Jack may not be frightened by Muriel, but he’s certainly haunted; displaced from his home by a cockroach inspection, and unable to find anyone willing to give him a bed, he is unmoored from his life, a floating entity with no sense of place. Despite his wisecracks he is clearly desperately lonely — as an early conversation with the toilet he’s cleaning attests — which makes his immediate connection with Muriel understandable.
And while the film ventures into problematic territory during its final reel, perhaps taking a step further than the narrative would warrant (and likely in need of a trigger warning), its sense of pervading melancholy is expertly handled by Stovall, Macadams and cinematographer Michael C Potter, who all do sterling work on a clearly limited budget. Themes of love and loss are also neatly underscored by a plaintive soundtrack by Mitch Bain and Margaret Darling.
Director: Adam Stovall Screenwriters: Adam Stovall and Macleod Andrews
Cast: Macleod Andrews, Natalie Walker, Amanda Miller, Sydney Vollmet Certificate: 18
Running Time: 79mins