It is a dubious honor to be considered one of the best direct-to-video movies of the year, but in the case of Ghost Machine, that sums it up just about perfectly. The acting is above average, the FX are above average, the directing is above average and so on. An argument could also be made that this movie is actually better than some of the blockbusters we saw in theaters this year, though that’s not saying much either. It is also an apt comparison because Machine actually suffers from a lot of the same problems as its bigger budgeted counterparts.
The story starts out muddled as we watch an extraordinarily slow-moving kidnapping (for most of the first five minutes, we’re riding in a van to somewhere with someone for some reason) and then jump into what we think is the real life rescue of the hostage but turns out to be the virtual reality trainer, leaving us to wonder… was there a point to anything we’ve just seen? We then meet a cocky tech-y IT-ish guy named Tom (Sean Faris, the direct-to-video man’s Tom Cruise) who oversees a virtual reality training facility for special forces soldiers. The tech on this VR software is so cutting edge, it’s just like… well.. watching a movie. One soldier – Jess (Rachael Taylor) the crazy pretty girl soldier that all special forces groups are known for – has trouble in the trainer, getting her whole virtual squad killed. Tom comforts her in probably the sleaziest way possible, especially considering his friend Vic (Luke Ford) is obviously interested in Jess and he’s also in the same room with them. No one seems to mind, though, so why should we?
Tom sets up a play date with some friends that night and takes this military VR stuff with him. They go to a huge spooky abandoned prison that turns out to be the site of the kidnapping from the beginning. They set up the game, which involves posting small camera boxes in strategic locations so as to scan in the building to use as the playing grounds – though why you’d need a physical building when the actual physical players will be sitting on a couch the whole time isn’t explained. But this process involves tapping into the temporal lobe of the players and blah blah blah, though the explanation of this stuff is breezy and actually seems fairly plausible.
So finally, after nearly half the movie is over, we get to the ghost portion of the movie – it seems the hostage we saw in the beginning was brought to this building and tortured until she died, leaving a vengeful spirit in one of the locked rooms. The boys set up a camera in this room, thereby ingesting the ghost into the system, and opening themselves up to be slaughtered. And Tom, Vic, and Jess will have to bring their A-game if they want to get out alive.
Oddly enough, it’s when the ghost comes into the picture that things start to fall apart. This is true for the same reason there is nothing scary about the Internet (I’m looking at you, FearDotCom) – are you really in danger if something comes for you in cyberspace? Even if a movie sets up that, yes, you are indeed in danger, it’s hard to fend off thoughts that simply turning off the machine would result in a total win. In the case of Ghost Machine, they’ve circumvented that problem, but unfortunately they’ve also made the gaming aspect of the story irrelevant. If the ghost exists outside the game, what’s the point of the game in the grand scheme of things?
These are way too many thoughts to have scrambling around one’s brain during a pulp flick like Ghost Machine. And the way things wrap up doesn’t help things either, as Tom turns out to be more than just an impossibly brilliant programmer and the ghost seems to be certified in C++. Any credibility the movie builds up in the beginning explaining how the computers work is completely discarded in the last ten minutes, but it does make for a loud and flashy ending. Which is how it leans toward its more expensive theatrical brethren – it tends to favor the shiny over the smart, even though smart would’ve taken it a lot further down the road.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic. The production value tends to be high, though some extras (especially video game soldiers) tend to look like film school buddies. The audio is Dolby Surround 5.1 with English Subtitles for the hearing impaired. The sound is well done, but nothing spectacular.
The Making of Ghost Machine – A pretty soft-spoken affair, but grittier than the usual press package DVDs normally include. Some of it recycles Sven Hughes sound bites from his interview. Still, if you enjoy the movie, definitely worth a look. (30:00)
Interview with Writer Sven Hughes – Mr. Hughes explains himself and the inspiration for his script. (9:53)
Ghost Machine Trailer – (2:05)
Other Trailers – Trailers for Lies and Illusions, Streets of Blood, Grace, and Stan Helsing.
Ghost Machine sets the bar pretty high for a direct-to-video flick, but it still falls short in concept and execution.
Generator Entertainment presents Ghost Machine. Directed by: Chris Hartwill. Starring: Sean Faris, Rachael Taylor, Luke Ford. Written by: Sven Hughes & M Smyth. Running time: 92min. Rating: R. Released on DVD: December 22, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Anchor Bay, horror, Rachael Taylor