Ghost Team (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
A delightful comedy with bona fide intention to entertain despite its limited budget, “Ghost Team,” directed by Oliver Irving, might have been improved significantly if it had undergone more rewrites designed to trim elements that don’t work and to amplify its strengths. Individual scenes work either as a comedy or horror; the picture is clearly made by fans of television shows that involve ghost hunters because references are abundant. However, the film does not command a strong enough tone or identity of its own to convince the audience that this particular story is worth telling and seeing.
Sick of the ennui of their every day lives, best friends Louis (Jon Heder) and Stan (David Krumholtz) find inspiration from their favorite ghost hunting show and decide to form their own group of paranormal investigators despite not having any money to buy fancy equipments meant to detect otherworldly activities, let alone other friends that would comprise their team. Highly determined to go on their first expedition, Louis and Stan manage to convince relatives (Justin Long, Paul W. Downs), who just so happen to have connections with the necessary electronics, an equally bored co-worker (Melonie Diaz), and a local psychic (Amy Sedaris) to join them in the attempt to gather evidence that ghosts really do exist in an abandoned farmhouse. As it turns out, they just might stumble upon what they’re after.
Each character is given a defined personality. This is not particularly difficult to accomplish but too many of its contemporaries tend to overlook the importance of the viewers being able to tell the characters apart, especially in scenes where it is dark and people end up running around and screaming for their lives. Although these characters are pigeonholed into certain archetypes, it works well enough because the comedy is never really meant to skewer. It helps that the performers seem at ease and genuinely having fun with their roles.
A few scares are surprisingly effective given that the film is, for the most part, a comedy. I enjoyed the scenes where characters split up to explore the farmhouse and there are cutaway scenes where we observe them on different screens. It subtly plays on perspective and expectations. One moment we are in a dark room with the characters and we are not certain whether they should or should be afraid. But then we get a chance to look at the monitors that see everything and we learn that something is in the room with them and they have absolutely no idea.
The twist is amusing and briefly enjoyable because it gives the filmmakers a chance to be more creative. For instance, their take on “zombies” is actually rooted on reality. Despite this, the third act is, without a doubt, the weakest link because once the rug has been pulled from under us, there are no more surprises. We realize then that one of its strengths is how it has managed to tease our curiosities, we were invested in what paranormal phenomena were in store for us as viewers and for the motley crew as first-time ghost hunters.
Written by Oliver Irving and Peter Warren, “Ghost Team” is a comedy that is unafraid to be quiet. This works in horror scenes, at times accompanied by an effectively uneasy score, where characters explore a strange room and all we hear are their footsteps and their curious breathing. This also works in the more comedic scenes because they allow us to absorb the jokes… and the non-jokes. With a few more script revisions, with special emphasis on the third act, it would have been a horror-comedy to be remembered—not necessarily for decades down the line but at least during the year of its release.