I’m a huge fan of Chiller TV. I find myself watching that channel more and more every week. Their original programming is exciting, they put together fantastic “list shows”, and they show a lot of really great horror films. So when I heard that Chiller Films was one of the production companies behind adapting Brian Keene’s novel GHOUL to the small screen, I was excited. I enjoyed their debut feature, REMAINS (my review here), and although it was far from a perfect film, it was fun, fast-paced, and had some really enjoyable moments. So when I sat down on Saturday night to watch GHOUL I was expecting big things. Unfortunately I was let down. GHOUL had some good parts to it, but all the parts unfortunately didn’t add up to a strong whole.
GHOUL is based on the Brian Keene novel of the same name. I’d like to point out that I haven’t read Keene’s novel and the comments I’m making here are strictly based on this TV movie, written by William M. Miller. The film is about three young kids who start noticing some strange shit happening in the local cemetery at night. Soon after, some local girls start going missing and the guys they were with turn up dead. The three friends are Timmy (Nolan Gould), the doe-eyed innocent, good kid; Barry (Trevor Harker), the troubled kid from an abusive family; and Doug (Jacob Bila), the chubby kid. Right off the bat you get the distinct feeling that you’ve seen this story and have witnessed these performances before. And you have. The three main kids are such re-hashed characters that there’s not one distinguishing characteristic among any of them that makes them stand out from all the other “coming of age” horror novels and films out there. The personal problems these kids have are standard, the ways they deal with their problems are standard, and the plot unfolds in a really standard way. The whole time I was watching this it felt like Stephen King wrote a crappy Scooby-Doo mystery (more on this in a minute).
The “action” here unfolds in the cemetery. Barry’s abusive asshole of a father is in charge of taking care of the small town’s cemetery and he’s doing a really shitty job. He’s drunk most of the time and is very jumpy and skittish when he’s in the cemetery. Then we find out that there’s a urban-like legend surrounding the town about a ghoul who comes out at night, abducts, and kills any locals dumb enough to wander around alone. This myth of the ghoul originated around the time the town’s main employer, the mine, experienced a cave-in and killed a lot of workers. Ever since then there’s been sightings of the ghoul. Timmy, Barry, and Doug find out this isn’t an urban legend or a myth created to keep the kids in town in check. There really is something out there. Or is there?
At this point I was worried GHOUL was going to become a goddamn Scooby-Doo mystery, and it kinda does. Screenwriter Miller and director Gregory Wilson (who directed Jack Ketchum’s novel THE GIRL NEXT DOOR) make an odd film here. One the one hand we have a film that’s about as scary as the aforementioned Scooby-Doo mystery, and on the other hand they include some pretty fucked up side plots in GHOUL. There’s incestuous pedophilia, father’s beating the living snot out of their kids, and infanticide … themes not usually included in TV movies. I applaud Chiller TV for taking the risk on including these themes, but when you see how they’re executed you’ll realize there really was no risk. The candy-ass and adult components never really mesh together, and this leads to one of the main problem with GHOUL. There’s no edge to anything going on here. I never felt that any of the main kids were ever in any real danger. Look at the kids in King’s STAND BY ME and IT; I was terrified for the kids in IT and felt that any of them could be killed at any moment. Not here. Even when the kids were in trouble there was never any doubt that they’d be safe.
The acting also never really rose above that of a TV movie. The three main kids did okay jobs but after seeing such films like LET ME IN where young Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz put in some absolutely amazing, well-beyond-their-years performances, well I was a little disappointed by the performances in GHOUL. They weren’t bad, but there were too many occasions where I was fully aware I was watching a movie. I believe Nolan Gould will, with more experience under his belt, become a good actor, but here he at times looked really uncomfortable and awkward in front of the camera. There’s also a few moments of gore but nothing that’ll satisfy you’re blood lust (yeah, I know my readers!!).
The reveal was also a huge let down. I don’t know if this is the exact same story as is in Keene’s novel, but the climax of the film was rather disappointing. It felt like a last minute decision. “Hhmmm; we need to wrap this up. Let’s make one of the minor sub-stories an essential part of the plot in the end.” Blech.
Yeah; I was disappointed with this one. I know Chiller TV can do better and have already seen better. There’s a few good things GHOUL has going for it: Creepy locations, some disturbing themes, a good looking creature (at least for the few moments we get to see it), and some nice camera work (although the editing was pretty shabby). But all these individual elements don’t add up to a strong overall film. All the various disturbing themes were presented so clinically and stoically that they had no impact whatsoever. What this film lacked was “edge.” With a lot more edge, GHOUL could’ve been a really fucked up and disturbing story. As it is now, well it’s very forgettable and ‘meh.”
You can do better Chiller!!
Director: Gregory Wilson
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer