HOW DO YOU STOP HER IF SHE DOESN'T EXIST?
ENTER THE MILITARY'S ULTIMATE COMBAT SIMULATOR. THE FINAL LEVEL IS MURDER.
One of the nice things about being a reviewer for a website like DVD Talk are the times when you're required to view something that you would have never watched on your own - and discovering a hidden gem. All the grousing I've had to do about some real toxic stinkers over the years is made up for by some unexpectedly good treats like The Chair and Artefacts.
Ghost Machine is another example. Its generic title screams cookie cutter SyFy Channel fare. Its cheesy DVD cover art looks like some kind of bizarre mishmash of Star Wars and Black Hawk Down, and the taglines and blurb certainly don't paint a promising picture. However, Anchor Bay Entertainment's import of this production from Northern Ireland doesn't disappoint - both the film and its extras are worth watching.
Ghost Machine, as a title, at least efficiently sums up this film: a hybridization of horror (Ghost) and science fiction (Machine) elements. In it, we're introduced to a small elite military squad being trained in combat tactics via a futuristic virtual reality simulator. Two of the young men, Tom and Vic (Sean Faris and Luke Ford, the latter of whom played the son in Universal's 2008 big budget sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) see other potential in this technology. They conspire with two video game addicts to access the simulator from a remote location for some kicks, or at least that's what it first seems. This remote location is a run-down abandoned prison where, in a flashback sequence at the start of the film, we learn that a young woman was tortured to death nine years ago. Inevitably, of course, the specter of this woman begins to interfere with the virtual shenanigans Tom, Vic, and their buddies partake in. In the meantime, another member of the unit, the attractive and aggressive Jess (Rachael Taylor) pieces together what's going on and arrives at the prison just as things start to go bad for the fellows.
To say more would spoil some of the surprises that this film has to offer. The screenplay credited to Sven Hughes (who is interviewed in one of the DVD's extras) and M. Smyth takes several unexpected turns in the second half, particularly in the film's conclusion. The concept of a malevolent spirit haunting technology is hardly new, but it is executed well in this movie. The specter of the tortured woman, who wields the chain used as she was killed, is creepy. She disappears and reappears at will, and she's kept in darkness through most of the movie, making her suitably mysterious.
The well-structured screenplay is brought to life effectively by the filmmakers. The setting of the haunted prison is realized well, and early scenes with the characters walking about it are atmospheric in a manner similar to the very fine horror movie Session 9. The acting, for the most part, is solid. Rachael Taylor is particularly good as the stock kick-ass action heroine filmgoers have grown used to. Sean Faris, however, seemed a bit over-the-top as Tom. Faris channels Tom Cruise - from appearance to the black clothing and earpiece a la Mission Impossible - to the point that I wondered whether the character's name was supposed to be some kind of in-joke.
Ghost Machine is one of those lower-budget films that opts for CG effects work that doesn't look convincing. Usually, this is something I complain about, however even these shaky effects work in the context of the movie, as almost all the CG is utilized during virtual reality segments. The effects, while not of a theatrical caliber, are used creatively at least. I especially liked how the prison, once uploaded into the virtual reality landscape (this all makes relative sense in the flow of the movie, trust me) could be manipulated by the evil spirit. Walls suddenly appear and disappear for our luckless characters, for instance, adding to the claustrophobic aspect of the prison setting.
Ghost Machine won't ultimately go down in the annals of great horror or science fiction filmmaking, but it's a surprisingly entertaining low budget romp from Northern Ireland. Don't let the silly-looking DVD cover art deceive - this one's worth a look. Recommended.
Anchor Bay Entertainment gives Ghost Machine an anamorphic widescreen presentation with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Colors seemed - likely deliberately - muted. Otherwise, the image looked crisp and detailed - though some light grain is evidenced throughout.
The lone audio track is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. Accents are a bit strong at times, but American audiences shouldn't have any trouble with it. The dialogue itself, however, is a bit soft in the mix, with sound effects like gunfire coming off too loudly. Overall, it's not bad, but a more uniform presentation would have been better. Optional English subtitles are also available.
Trailers preceded the main menu for Lies and Illusions, Streets of Blood, Grace, Stan Helsing, and Red Mist. They're not available in the menu system, though there is a Trailer link for a separate trailer of Ghost Machine itself.
More significant extras include The Making of Ghost Machine (30:01), a behind the scenes featurette that runs longer than the typical promotional-style featurettes included on DVDs. The cast and crew provide comments interspersed with scenes from the movie. While he's included in the "making of" featurette, writer Sven Hughes has a separate interview (9:53) where he talks about the genesis of the story, etc. I appreciated this extra, especially since a commentary track wasn't included.
Ghost Machine, a U.K. horror / sci-fi hybrid film recently released by Anchor Bay Entertainment for U.S. audiences, is a surprisingly clever low budget take on a malevolent ghost haunting technology. It's not great, but fans of the genre will find a lot to like here. Recommended.