Ghosts of the Ozarks (2021)
Written by Jordan Wayne Long, Tara Perry and Sean Anthony Davis
Directed by Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long
Review by: Mark Walker
In post-civil war Arkansas, a young doctor is mysteriously summoned to a remote town in the Ozarks, only to discover the utopian paradise he expected is filled with secrets and surrounded by a menacing, supernatural presence. Starring Tim Blake Nelson and David Arquette, Ghosts of the Ozarks is a thrilling new take on the southern ghost story.
Signature Entertainment present Ghosts of the Ozarks on Digital Platforms 23rd May
At the invite of his brother, James McCune (Thomas Hobson) travels to the small town of Norfolk in the Ozark Mountains. The community needs a new doctor, and Matthew (Phil Morris) believes his brother will fit the bill perfectly. On his journey, James is attacked by a stranger looking for something that be believes James has, but the stranger is “taken” by a mysterious red mist that appears out of nowhere. James makes a run for it and arrives in town, flustered and panicked, but suddenly safe. Following his harrowing experiences in the Civil War, James is initially stunned by the apparent harmony of the community. He sees none of the issues and prejudices he has experienced outside the safety of the town walls. With their very own source of natural gas, the town is thriving under the leadership of his brother Matthew.
But it becomes apparent that there is another reason for the walls.; a sinister presence, known as “the Ghosts” by the townsfolk. These spirits are revered and feared by the people of the town and they stalk the woods outside the walls; the red mist that James encountered.
As James settles into his new life, things appear to idyllic, until he meets Annie and Will, two hunters who supply the town with food, but who also chose to live outside the protection of the walls. It is through Annie that he learns how things might not be quite as perfect as they seem. With some members of the town acting suspiciously and secretively, and with mysterious deaths, James slowly uncovers the truth about the town and it’s Ghosts.
Ghosts of the Ozarks is a quality production. The direction and visuals are good and the cast and acting is solid; which is what you would expect with a cast that includes Tim Blake Nelson, David Arquette, Angela Bettis, Tara Perry and Joseph Rudd who all put in great performances.
It isn’t a fast-paced film and Ozarks takes its time to set up the characters and the town, slowly revealing its history, developing a feeling of unease and mystery around what is going on. Norfolk does not give up its secrets to James easily, and it isn’t always clear who can be trusted.
It's a great set-up and builds atmosphere slowly but it does feel a little familiar from the start. The concept of an outsider arriving in a mysterious community is not entirely new; but the acting, direction and writing drew me in, and I was invested in James’ character very quickly. However, for me, the major problem with the film was the “reveal” in the final act. Once you find out what is going on, you realise just how close it sails to some other films (and one in particular that I won’t name for spoiler reasons) that have used a similar plot device in the past. Sadly, this just takes the wind out of Ghost’s sails because it isn’t quite the surprise the film probably thinks it is. It is also all over very quickly after the reveal, so the implications and impact on the people of Norfolk is glossed over, lessening the impact. Having said that, I am a big fan of the film that Ghosts pays close tribute to, so still enjoyed it, it just loses a star or two because of that similarity.
This doesn’t make Ozarks a bad film, it just reduced the impact of the reveal for me. Your mileage may vary if you haven’t seen the other film, but I feel it may detract from what is, otherwise, a well-made production with great acting and direction. The central performances are good, and you even get a musical number from Tim Blake Nelson and Angela Bettis which felt a little odd when it kicked in but had me humming it for the next few days!
Overall, I enjoyed Ozarks, I just didn’t find it original enough to be great. If you like the sound of the premise and the cast list, then it is definitely worth a look, just be prepared to be underwhelmed by the final act that probably won’t take you anywhere you haven’t been before.
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Film Review: Shin Godzilla (2016)
The Japanese government struggle against a giant monster and political bureaucracy.
Dir. Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi; Japan; 120min
Ginger Nuts of Horror is honoured to once again be asked to participate in Derby University's Creative and Professional Writing & Film and Television Studies honours degree course.
Today we welcome Harry Schofield with their review of Shin Godzilla (2016)directed by Hideaki Anno, and Shinji Higuchi
Shin Godzilla is a 2016 sci-fi/horror film from directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, placing itself as the 31st instalment in the historic Godzilla franchise. Grossing $78m worldwide on only a $15m budget and winning 7 awards in the 2017 Japan Academy Prize including Picture Of The Year, it was a massive commercial and critical success.
Following their creation of the sci-fi/psychological anime classic Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno and Higuchi are on top form once more. The film carefully ties together the horror elements of Godzilla’s attack on Japan with meaningful political commentary on the Japanese government’s response to disasters, creating a film that can be appreciated on a multitude of layers.
This iteration of Godzilla diverts from recent presentations of Godzilla as a hero, saving Japan from other, more blatantly evil and destructive monsters. The Godzilla of Shin is instead a horrific, mutated abomination with no interest in helping humanity, or even interacting with it; they are simply in the way. Godzilla gradually evolves from a single tail erupting from Tokyo Bay to a bizarre amphibian with eyes like that of a dead fish, and finally to a more traditional Godzilla-esque gargantuan behemoth. Even in this more ‘expected’ form, Shin brings back the horror elements of the earliest films in the series in its unsettling design, describable only as a monster rather than a natural creature. Just as with the Godzilla of 1954, it’s covered in tumours and keloid scars, the unique scarring originating from radiation poisoning, which was included to reinforce Godzilla’s representation of the Hiroshima bombing and the effects of nuclear war. Blood continually pours from its gills when it first surfaces on land; its eyes remain beady and vacant, as if unsure of its own existence, and its jaw horrifyingly unhinges and even splits in half when unleashing its destructive atomic breath. Godzilla is presented as a confused creature in agony.
Just as with the original film’s political commentary on the America’s irresponsible use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima, and Godzilla itself directly paralleling the nuclear fallout, Shin Godzilla has a new target in its subtext: the Japanese government’s response to the tragic 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster following it. Several of the shots during Godzilla’s first landfall very deliberately mirror images of the tsunami hitting Tohoku, and his rampage leaves Tokyo almost uninhabitable due to radioactive fallout left in his wake. Anno ensures audiences cannot miss the implications and subtext of these scenes: Godzilla is a walking nuclear disaster.
The story is also framed not through the eyes of a heroic citizen, as with several other films in the series, but instead the government itself. This leads to scenes and characters’ decisions that intentionally present the government as uncertain and sometimes ineffectual despite their best efforts, clearly reflecting Anno’s view of the slow response to the 2011 disasters, which lead to avoidable death and destruction. The cast’s impressive and complex performances add greatly to this aspect of the film, never falling into naive archetypes of governmental figures. While the politicians could have been presented as misguided fools Anno avoids this cliché and creates characters with depth, by ensuring they are always acting in the best interest of the citizens and making some intelligent decisions, such as prioritising a full evacuation of Tokyo before even attempting to damage Godzilla; Anno instead takes aim at the failure and infuriating complications of bureaucracy. An example of this satire is the repeated implementation of scenes displaying the politicians moving to a different cabinet meeting room midway through an emergency briefing, purely due to traditional bureaucracy rules decreeing it. My favourite highlight of this is one of the best uses of humour in the film; Prime Minister Okochi is shown delivering a press conference reassuring citizens that Godzilla will not make landfall – a scene which immediately cuts to chaotic handheld camera footage of Godzilla making landfall. While you might worry this focus on accurate bureaucracy could negatively affect the film’s pacing, the constant threat and evolutions of Godzilla maintains intense urgency over the film’s two-hour runtime, cleverly reflecting the character’s panic due to their unpreparedness for this disaster.
Effective as the political satire is, this element never gets in the way of the film’s breathtaking action and horror elements. Shin contains by far the most haunting sequences of any film in the franchise, and arguably of the entire kaiju genre, containing absolutely stunning cinematography and direction. Godzilla is consistently presented as a literal god, very often shot from a grounded perspective to highlight its incomprehensible size and stature. The CGI used to create it is flawless, never damaging your suspension of disbelief with poor effects or low-quality models. Each shot of this abomination reinforces its horrific and godlike nature, culminating in the truly disturbing climactic scene of Godzilla decimating Tokyo and transforming it into a burning hellscape. This horrifyingly beautiful sequence not only demonstrates its ridiculous destructive power, but also acts as an unexpected character moment for Godzilla due to its soundtrack. Returning to collaborate with Anno after his work on Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shiro Sagisu’s Who Will Know is a gorgeous orchestral piece befitting of the magnificent devastation onscreen and, in a rare choice for a kaiju film, containing lyrics:
‘If I die in this world
Who will know something of me?
I am lost, no one knows
There’s no trace of my yearning’
This melancholy operatic piece strengthens Godzilla’s presentation as a tortured being in an unusually emotional exploration of its tragic character, wonderfully contrasting the destruction it underscores. Other tracks from Sagisu also perfectly reinforce the wildly varying tones of the scenes they appear in. The warm and jazzy Early Morning From Tokyo adds rare feelings of relaxation to the calmer moments of the film, while EM20 (a rearrangement of the track Decisive Battle from Evangelion, a treat for fans of Anno’s work) adds powerful intensity to frantic cabinet meetings with its marching drums and hopeful melodies. Anno also includes classic themes by the late, great composer Akira Ifukube, strengthening Godzilla’s horrifying prescence with several renditions of the beast’s unforgettable title theme from across the franchise’s history, in addition to preserving iconic roars from Godzilla’s past. Without Sagisu’s stunning pieces and Ifukube’s legacy, Shin simply wouldn’t be the same.
Shin Godzilla is a masterpiece. Anno and Higuchi’s creative visions shine through to create what is easily the most unique, and beautiful, Godzilla film to date. Shin isn’t only an incredible Godzilla film; it’s just an incredible film.
Name: Harry Schofield
Course: 2nd year of study of BA (Hons) in Creative and Professional Writing at University of Derby
Writing interests: poetry, short fiction and review/commentary