Pay the Ghost full movie review - Melodrama Over Horror
Pay the Ghost won't be enigmatic to find your attention. While the premise sounds simple and intriguing enough; a mystery of a ghost that kidnaps children on Halloween with a scale of a basic detective story; the movie hardly finds anything scary within this story.
Sure, this story does have some interesting details that intersects both supernatural and crime movie elements. But without offering much terror, this combination just makes it all silly. Even worse is a climax that is riddled with clichés and pays off with horrible effects that could be worthy for laughter. Even for a Nicolas Cage film, this isn't the most charming suit as a guilty pleasure or a respected work.
You can't blame anyone being hooked with this premise. While it's nothing original exactly, there is still something gripping from its details. But the characters are taken as seriously as a typical domestic drama. In a story that involves a lot of ridiculous supernatural elements, these moments often feel out of place. Even the detective work seems quite grounded and the more they're figuring out what really abducted the son of its protagonist, the sillier the movie really gets. To its credit, it does take us to interesting places and shows us some campy side characters to probably spice up the atmosphere, but what really lacks here is the scares. Sure, it has jump scares, mild violence and awful darkness, but they're not quite effective.
It fails to establish its own horror, what the film only matters is the aesthetics. Yes, there's Halloween, there's evil cults, there's evil birds, there's creepy children, creepy bums (with one that somehow looked like a mop wigged Tommy Wiseau) and there's a campy old psychic. Some may find it admirable for its extreme campiness, but there's nothing to it, either. It's just fooling the sensibility of this film. It gets even kookier at the climax, where the ghost and its realm are revealed and the effects are bad enough not to scare you. And like I said before, has some special effects that are laughable, with its movements almost seem like it belongs on a Youtube Poop. Nicolas Cage is neither being over-the-top nor even trying to make his performance subtle. He's just wandering around fighting between the hamminess found in his wide eyed expressions and his supposedly affecting drama. The supporting cast are also trying to pull off a good performance, but they should have been aware of the material they are working on. I would have admired Stephen McHattie more if he does a Tommy Wiseau impression. Sorry.
I think the real problem of Pay the Ghost is it's not really that scary. It's however trying to be, but it never worked. And it gets sillier. There is nothing to fault a horror film acting like a basic crime thriller, in fact, that might have made this more interesting. Aside of its non-effective horror, this movie is otherwise a bland mystery film with an underdeveloped mythology. It also has an ending that you should be taking seriously, except you can't. The movie should have been about chewing the scenery at every campy details of this story, but again, the movie tries to be grounded in its characters, in spite of having secret portals and whatever. It's The Wicker Man all over again, minus the bees (unless we wait for the unrated version.) It's just impossible to buy into the film's gravity. It's just too ludicrous, unless of course, it's scary. That is what truly lacks here, the ability to actually scare you. If it can't, then at least be more imaginative than taking stuff that already exist in better horror films.