War is a horror story all on its own, but when war narratives are enhanced with horror elements, it can make for a unique revisionist experience. Case in point: Overlord, the Julius Avery-directed and J.J. Abrams-produced World War II film about a group of young soldiers sent to destroy a German radio tower who find a horrific Nazi experiment that mutates the human body and can bring people back from the dead. Basically, it’s World War II with zombies. In the same vein is Eric Bress’ Ghosts of War—the title says it all. It’s a ghost story set in World War II, which, for the most part, is a pretty solid haunted house film. Until it veers out of its horror box with a Black Mirror-esque twist that ruins the film.
It’s 1944 in Nazi-occupied France and five young American soldiers are assigned to hold an outpost. The journey at the beginning of the film captures war-torn France as the group travels through a town on fire, meet Jews escaping a concentration camp, and encounter some Nazis along the way. When they reach the outpost, they are welcomed by a grand chateau that, as one character explains, is larger than his neighborhood in Queens. Formally occupied by Nazi high command, the soldiers that were stationed there before them are spooked, sleepless, and in a hurry. This is of much confusion to Chris, Kirk, Tappert, Eugene, and Butchie, as to them the chateau represents respite, cheese, and wine. However, it soon becomes evident, more at first to the audience than the soldiers, that this haven isn’t safe at all: it’s home to a supernatural enemy more terrifying than anything they’ve encountered. As they swap horror stories in front of the fire, they have no idea they’re about to experience one.
This haunted house fare delivers your familiar spooks: items falling over, mysterious noises and voices, the sight of shadows, the sound of footsteps, and a bathtub (why is there always a bathtub?). There's a mix of some jump scares, thanks to the spirits that are given your typical but well-designed effects (black eyes and equally black, agape mouth), but Ghosts of War doesn’t add anything new to the ghost stories canon; however, it delivers on the atmosphere and intrigue needed to keep the audience engaged. Its period, at least, makes this tale feel a little bit fresh.
The film’s characters must uncover what the Nazis did to the family who now haunts this home, and while they are given little to no backstory, the cast, which includes Brenton Thwaites and Skylar Astin, has a wonderful rapport. They become trapped in a twisted, dark nightmare together and all must contend with their sins. As they attempt to uncover the mystery behind the terror they are experiencing, the film leaves a plot hole or two along the way: things that are addressed, but provide no follow through. And then, in the last 30 minutes, Bress throws you for a loop, turning Ghosts of War into a Black Mirror episode. What could have been a pretty decent addition to the war horror genre is ruined, its twist sucking the fun out of this adults-only Haunted Mansion ride.
Movie Score: 2/5