There are few emotions that can sell a horror story as well as grief can. Grief has long been one of the key motivators in horror cinema, because pretty much everyone out there has had to deal with loss at some point in their life. Ghost From The Machine (previously known as Phasma Ex Machina) takes on this simple horror staple with a twist on the classic "Monkey's Paw
tale that mixes science and the supernatural wonderfully.
Written and directed by Minnesota-based filmmaker Matt Osterman, Ghost From The Machine focuses on two men - a son named Cody, and a husband named Tom - who are very interested in the paranormal. While the older man who lost his wife to cancer has moved on in his life, the young man who feels responsible for the loss of his parents becomes obsessed with bringing them back into the family home.
To complete that task, he needs a complicated mechanical device that went way over my non-scientific head. As far as I can tell, the machine harnesses electricity to use EMPs, because most hauntings occur in places with lots of electrical stuff, or something like that. My mind is not capable of "getting" this scientific stuff, but the film sells the idea well. I wasn't sure what it was saying, but I understood what it meant.
The machine's results are much less confusing, because it isn't long after Cody's machine is running that Tom sees his dead wife hanging out in their kitchen. These events aren't played for scares - the young woman is polite and pleasant - but they certainly make the viewer a bit uneasy. Cody and his brother aren't so lucky. They do start to experience strange visitors - but they're pretty sure it's not their parents.
Ghost From The Machine certainly isn't a scare-a-minute thrill ride, but it doesn't need to be thanks to the human drama at work in the film. The acting helps - Sasha Andreev as Cody and Matthew Feeney as Tom stand out - but the film works mostly because it's so easy to relate to the characters. This is a calm, grounded film with characters who seem like people we'd meet in our everyday life. At times, I even forgot that this was supposed to be a horror movie. And that made the film's surprises that much more effective.
In fact, there's a moment near the middle of the film where our lead characters talk about how paranormal phenomena affect someone, singling out the hairs raising up on the back of your neck and other physical reactions. As the film revealed its sinister side, I found myself experiencing this exact feeling, and even found myself gasping out loud at one unexpected reveal. The ominous entities that we see are shocking and memorable, but the film doesn't rely on special effects to create them. It's a fantastic representation of the dangers that arise when we tamper with things we don't understand because it's both unique and believable.
Ghost From The Machine's slow pace and focus on the family may lose some horror fans who want more action, but I was enamored by it completely. And, unlike most films that get FMWL's Indie Spotlight, this one is a) already out on DVD and b) has already been sold to Universal for a Hollywood remake. So there's no reason you shouldn't seek out Ghost From The Machine, a great piece of paranormal drama that brings some good chills and keeps the viewer thinking. It might not be the scariest horror film of the year, but it might be the most endearing.