Life inspires art, art imitates life; for successful horror writer Elizabeth Keller, married to a handsome and supportive man with a young son, to the outside world her life seems so perfect it could almost be made up, but it hides the scars of her past, and on the promotional tour for her latest novel Incident in a Ghostland the question comes up: how much of her writing is autobiographical?
Then comes the frantic call from her sister, Vera, begging Beth not to leave her alone followed by the cross-country trek to the isolated farmhouse which once belonged to their eccentric great aunt Clarisse, where her beautiful and unchanged mother Pauline still lives and cares for the deeply unstable Vera.
Covered in bedsores, locking herself in the cellar in a home-made padded cell, Vera scrawls lipstick messages on mirrors pleading for help, yet Pauline seems almost indifferent to the suffering of her daughter who is traumatised by the memory of the home invasion years before when they first moved into the house, memories Beth now must also face upon her return.
With its UK premiere on at London FrightFest, Incident in a Ghostland is written and directed by Martyrs’ Pascal Laugier, a psychological horror made with the ethic of torture porn, of blusher mixed with tears, of the prisons made by the past and the lies made to push them out of mind and the triggers which open the doors of memory, a dog at the window, the sound of an idling truck engine.
The house a dusty nightmare of faded wallpaper filled with the creepy cracked faces of porcelain dolls and pinned insect collections, the carnival trappings reminding of the films of Rob Zombie who is namechecked by the sisters on their arrival, but beyond the raw performances of Emilia Jones and Taylor Hickson as Beth and Vera, their older selves played by Crystal Reed and Anastasia Phillips, the plot is slight.
Laugier an occasional expert at gauging the tension and the scares with misdirection amid the false jump scares and clichés which pepper the early part, his script is his downfall, settling for repeating violence rather than character or genuine drama; the pen is mightier than the sword, a typewriter even more so, yet his preferred weapon remains a broken bottle.
Like The Strangers, too much of Incident in a Ghostland is a parade of nastiness for the sake of it, Beth’s early love of horror an avenue to consider the desire to scare and be scared which then remains unexplored, the references to H P Lovecraft as Beth’s major literary influence incongruous as this in no way resembles his elaborate and stylised mode of fantastical fiction.
The supporting cast including French Canadian singer Mylène Farmer and Lost Girl‘s Rob Archer, unrecognisable under prosthetics, Incident in a Ghostland is the work of a capable filmmaker treading water rather than swimming against the tide, its premise underdeveloped regardless of how well executed the presentation is.