This Art House Horror Chills
DIRECTED BY H.P. MENDOZA/2012
The best way to describe I Am a Ghost is to imagine The Sixth Sense, but the audience knows that Bruce Willis is dead from the beginning. In this case the spirit’s name is Emily, played by Anna Ishida, and she is stuck in a continuous loop in a house she does not know she is haunting. In one of the rooms, we hear a voice trying to guide her away from the house and into the afterlife.
By tipping his hat to the audience so early and letting them know Emily is a ghost, director H.P. Mendoza has to deal with the challenge of still making a great movie. And he does. How do you still get scares when you see the movie through the spirit’s eyes? Answer: You play with perspective. Once Emily realizes she’s a ghost, then her perspective changes. She starts to see herself as the ghost, seeing the images of her haunting, and you realize why the new family living in the house is so terrified of our main character. That first turn may be expected, but Mendoza raises the stakes again about 2/3 the way into the movie by adding another turn, that literally descends into the film and caused an audible gasp in the theater I saw it in.
Mendoza makes you care enough about his story to get to the ideas. This is a movie made for both fans of art house cinema and horror cinema.
Along with being scary, Mendoza is also making a commentary on the power of perspective. How can a seemingly normal person like Emily be a form of terror to a family? Neither Emily nor the audience understands until she sees a manifestation of herself. Mendoza explores the power of being able to see yourself and the impact, good or bad, you may have on others. It reminded me of the Tolstoy quote “Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change themselves.” Emily cannot fix her situation until she sees what she is. And even if she realizes, will she be strong enough or be another victim of what she is?
And credit must be given to Ishida for carrying the movie on her own. For being in every scene and giving a performance where she oftentimes does not have another actor to bounce off of. Much like Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion, she creates a character you are rooting for, even though you don’t fully trust her and have an idea she may be the true villain.
Mendoza states in an interview that the influences for the movie include The Shining and Picnic at Hanging Rock. I think those two movies are a perfect comparison. Imagine the pure horror of The Shining along with that eerie, unsettling feeling you felt the first time you saw Picnic at Hanging Rock. I Am a Ghost may be a movie that you aren’t sure what to think of the moment it ends, but oftentimes those are the best kinds of movies.
What I Am a Ghost succeeds at is what another independent movie earlier this year, Beyond the Black Rainbow, failed at. Both movies have big ideas behind them, but Mendoza makes you care enough about his story to get to the ideas. This is a movie made for both fans of art house cinema and horror cinema. It is still making the film festival rounds and had not been purchased for distribution yet, but it truly deserves to be.