Ghosts Don't Exist would seem to have a lot going for it. It's an upstart, independent film in the vein of The Last Exorcism or Paranormal Activity, documenting the travails of a ghost hunter going to investigate a house supposedly haunted by his own dead wife. It's got a realistic feel, a great premise and high production values. Despite all of this, however, it ends up being mediocre at best.
Brett (Phillip Roebuck) is the television ghost hunter in question. He has decided to retire after the death, apparently at the hands of an incompetent doctor, of his wife, but is pressured by the suits at his network to do one last show. At first, he's reluctant to travel to the isolated home of Travis Garner (Joe Hansard), thinking he's a crank, but when the man describes his wife's birthmark, something he could not have known from watching the show, he agrees to visit the home and investigate.
He shows up with his trusty cameraman Ritchie (Frederick Cowie) and assistant Jen (Devon Marie Burt), with whom he appears to have a more than professional relationship, only to find that noted skeptic David Sherman (Josh Davidson) has also been invited to observe. David has been a particular critic of Brett's, and the situation is awkward, but not nearly so awkward as when Garner shoots himself in the head minutes after they arrive. Everybody wants to leave except Brett, who pulls a gun himself, insisting that they stay on and investigate as they had intended, letting the air out of the tires of one of the cars for good measure. Submitting to the logic of the gun barrel, the other three relent, and break out the video cameras, digital tape recorders and EMF detectors. Various strange phenomena ensue, including visions, strange presences, and phone calls from dead people.
To its credit, Ghosts Don't Exist has some strong points. The source of the haunting, and the dénouement in general are unexpected, though hinted at during the narrative. And some measure of tension is built, though only sporadically maintained, and there are a few effective scares. However, the film can't seem to decide whether it's a horror film or a relationship drama, and so does both in half measures. As stated above, the tension is haphazard, sometimes high, and sometimes nonexistent. The scares are spaced too far apart, allowing the dread to subside. The drama and horror don't mesh well, and so diminish each other. Also, the performances range from fairly decent (Roebuck as Brett does the best job) to stiff or uncomfortable, with the pair playing the sheriff and deputy the worst of the lot. The dialogue is clumsy at times, which doesn't help, and Cowie and Burt, despite their significant screen time, don't have the wherewithal to deliver it naturally.
The film has a lot of promise, and if writer/director Eric Espejo had decided to make it a full on ghost story, the flashes of genius seen here might have grown into a truly great and terrifying film, with the technical failings fading into the background. As it is, with the conflicting themes stumbling over each other, and the so so performances, it can't quite get there.
The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and actually looks pretty good, though there is consistent posterization during the numerous scenes shot in near darkness. These are easily overlooked, however, and overall the contrast is good, and the action is visible.
The sound is in Dolby digital 2 channel, and is also pretty good. The dialogue is clearly audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
There are no extras included on the disc, which is a disappointment. It's always interesting to hear how these low budget, independent affairs get made, and commentaries and featurettes can be quite informative. No such luck.
Ghosts Don't Exist has a lot of potential, but doesn't exploit it. Trying to be both a horror film and a relationship piece, it fails to fully succeed at either. There are many good points, but also many failings, making this ultimately a film to rent.