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Ghostbusters Afterlife

Director – Jason Reitman – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

A single parent mum and her two teenage kids relocate to a small American town to find strange, paranormal goings-on – out in cinemas on Thursday, November 18th

Hollywood loves sequels to or reboots of successful films. The original Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984), in which three parapsychologists set up as a team to capture the many ghosts that have inexplicably begun appearing in New York City, was unlike anything that had gone before with its mixture of comedy, action and the paranormal. Deservedly a huge hit, it spawned the inevitable sequel Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989) which didn’t have a strong enough plot to maintain interest beyond the first 20 minutes or so. The reboot Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016), recasting the parapsychologists as women, worked well enough.

Ghostbusters Afterlife, however, is another attempt at a sequel. A very brave attempt it is too, because sequels are often expected to basically rerun the original film in an attempt to serve the audience a second helping of what they enjoyed before. After seeing it, you might argue that Afterlife does that, but going in, you might wonder what on Earth is going on. (Which is a good place to start, actually, because that’s very much the feeling the original engendered.) Director Jason Reitman has previously written and directed such effective, character-based comedies as Up In The Air (2009) and that background serves him well as writer-director here.

So, here’s a Ghostbusters movie set not in New York but in a small town in the middle of nowhere. There is no team of scientists, but instead a single parent family (mum, two teenagers) who’ve moved to the town having inherited a decrepit farmhouse from the kids’ late grandfather. And the element of comedy here, although present to some degree, is largely dropped in favour of both action and the paranormal.

Strange things are going on at night at an isolated homestead – power generators crackling to life outside, ghostly manifestations, a complex rig involving a ghost trap from the first Ghostbusters movie… Much of this takes place in the dark, making it hard to see exactly who (or what) is doing what but visible enough to get a pretty good idea that a human person is trying to entrap (successfully or otherwise) some pretty nasty, supernatural beast.

Chicago-based single mum Callie (Carrie Coon) has a way with money. Not, however, a good way – she just can’t convince her rent-demanding landlord to hold off another week for the money, so she and her kids Trevor, 15 (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe, 12 (McKenna Grace) leave for the small town of Summerville, Oklahoma where her recently deceased father has left them his dilapidated property in his will. Yes, it’s that same farmhouse. She never really knew her father and resents the fact. It’s a part of her life she’s kept hidden from her kids, so they don’t know much about him at all.

The bespectacled Phoebe is something of a prodigy, a nerd who doesn’t get on with most of her peers because she’d rather discuss the finer points of her latest physics experiments than anything else. The first thing she does in the new house is to start messing around with the electrical wiring. She’s soon discovering items of interest on the premises, like her grandfather’s lab with all its equipment, some of which she starts to repair. At Summer school, she bonds with juvenile internet channel host Podcast (Logan Kim) and teacher in charge Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd).

Grooberson is impressed with her scientific knowledge and the two soon become friends. This is in stark contrast to his teaching, which consists largely of sitting teenagers in front of a TV monitor and having them watch VHS copies of horror movies from the Ghostbusters era like Cujo (Lewis Teague, 1983). Not that different from the town itself, where the local cinema is playing an early schlock effort of both the film’s producer and the director’s father Cannibal Girls (Ivan Reitman, 1973).

The teacher later becomes the potential love interest for Callie and, later still, the pair of them become demon-possessed, much like Dana (Sigourney Weaver) in the original. There’s something almost endearing albeit downright Puritanical about two adult characters who fancy each other needing to become demon-possessed in order to have sex, as if to say no-one in their right mind ever would.

Meanwhile, gawky Trevor falls for local fast food worker Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). When not hanging out with her and the rest of the joint’s employees, he’s trying to repair one of his grandfather’s motor vehicles that’s stashed in the garage. The one he’s picked is the one with the No Entry / Ghost sign on the side. Eventually he gets it working and when he and Phoebe use it to chase a spooky green entity that’s wreaking havoc across town, we discover that the old ECTO-1 has been modified since earlier franchise entries – it now has not only a gunner’s seat but also houses a little four-wheeled, remote control platform (to carry the ghost trap) which looks suspiciously like the vehicles in the Thunderbirds TV series (creators: Gerry and Sylvia Anderson) pilot Trapped In The Sky which stand in for a landing airliner’s wheels when its undercarriage won’t open.

Afterlife may be nothing like the original, yet there are quite a few familiar elements – the green ghost looks a lot like Slimer, while the terror dogs and their supernatural overlord also put in quite considerable appearances as does the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, this time round not a lone giant but an army of six inch high manifestations. Not to mention the Ghostbusters’ overalls, ECTO-1 and much of their equipment. These seem to grow quite naturally out of the characters and their story which can be put down to Jason Reitman’s screenwriting abilities and the fact that as Ivan Reitman’s son, he’s watched the whole Ghostbusters franchise grow, develop and even make the occasional misstep under the guiding hand of his producer-director father. (If you’re reading this, Ivan Reitman, the franchise is really impressive – but I can’t tell you how disappointed I was by Ghostbusters II back in the day.)

Ultimately, this isn’t a film made by a studio desperate to put out a money-spinning sequel, it’s rather a love letter to the original which deftly extends the mythology. Which is a much better idea all round. Equally, if you’ve not seen the original, it’s as good a place as any to start. Kudos to all concerned.

Oh, and make sure you stay seated until the very end of the credits. (This could just be me trying to make you behave properly in a cinema – however, if you go early, you won’t know whether or not you missed that extra scene at the end. Watching people miss scenes at the end of films because they can’t wait to leave remains one of my simple pleasures in life. Don’t give me that satisfaction: sit still to the very last frame and frustrate me.)

Ghostbusters Afterlife is out in cinemas in the UK on Thursday, November 18th.

Trailer:

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