Director: Uli Edel
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Alex Mallari Jr, Lyriq Bent, Elizabeth Jeanne le Roux, Jack Fulton
Runtime: 1 hr 34 mins
Rating: PG13 (Horror And Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 8 October 2015
Synopsis: Haunted by eerie images and unexplainable messages, a man (Nicolas Cage) tries to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of his son during a Halloween parade.
Anyone hoping to see a glimpse of the old Nicolas Cage will have to continue waiting, for ‘Pay the Ghost’ isn’t the comeback vehicle for the once-promising actor who has spent far too long languishing in lousy B-grade movies of late. Playing a college professor who is haunted by the disappearance of his young son while out on a street carnival on Halloween night, Cage pretty much sleepwalks through a role that doesn’t demand much in the first place, other than to look scared, confused and terrified at different junctures – and no, pairing him with ‘The Walking Dead’s’ Sarah Wayne Callies doesn’t help make his Mike Lawford any more interesting.
We pity Cage, who is shortchanged at the get-go by a filament-thin script from Dan Kay. Notwithstanding the intriguing titular phrase, the Celtic legend to which it all leads to is entirely familiar territory, revolving as it does around a 17th century witch who was burnt alive at the stake by a mob after losing her children to a fire. As much as this folk tale has its roots in British author Tim Lebbon's short story ‘October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween’ which serves as the basis of the movie, Kay hardly explores the Celtic origin of the occasion in much depth, preferring instead to have Cage run around Lower Manhattan conducting his own investigation into two other kids who disappeared under similar circumstances on that very same night.
Just why the said witch can only abduct kids from our realm on All Hallows’ Eve isn’t clear. Ditto why any chance of saving them apparently vanishes if they are not rescued on the very next Halloween night. Indeed, it all seems awfully convenient in order to set Cage up on a race against time to rescue his son Charlie (Jack Fulton) before the portal to her realm closes. But even if we are willing to accept such contrivances, there is little that is actually truly frightening to speak of. Veteran German helmer Uli Edel seems way out of his depth here, resorting to repeated shots of a swooping vulture, disturbing graffiti and a hooded figure to generate an atmosphere of dread – but ultimately falls back to the cheapest trick in the horror playbook, i.e. ‘jump’ scares, to get a reaction from his audience.
Newcomers to the genre might be sufficiently jolted from time to time, but seasoned fans will find it hard-pressed to identify what hasn’t been done before – and done better – in countless other movies. Perhaps the only draw here is Cage himself, who has gone from Oscar nominee in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ to Hollywood blockbusters like ‘National Treasure’ and ‘Con Air’ to dreck like ‘Season of the Witch’ and ‘Outcast’ in recent years – if anything, the seasoned performer is still engaging to watch as the desperate dad with a perpetual furrow on his brow. We’re not quite sure what ‘pay the ghost’ means even at the end of the film, but were we to hazard a guess, we’d say it’s a metaphor for us paying to see the actor as a ghost of his former illuminous self.
(As second or even third-rate as such horror thrillers get, this Halloween missing-child mystery by way of a Celtic folk tale is good only if you’re curious what Nic Cage is up to these days)
Review by Gabriel Chong