Adam Stovall’s micro-budget oddity A Ghost Waits is an ultra lo-fi metaphysical romance that plays with the tropes of the haunted house tale to appealing affect. Making a virtue of its limitations, the film foregrounds character rather than chills and succeeds with winning performances and just the right level of quirky atmosphere.
Jack (MacLeod Andrews, who co-wrote the script with Stovall) works as a handyman for a property company. His current assignment is to carry out some light repairs on a house from which numerous tenants move out with explanation. He discovers that this is down to the presence of a ghost Muriel (Natalie Walker), who operates as a ‘spectral agent’ for some afterlife bureaucratic organisation. Muriel is initially put out that Jack isn’t afraid of her, but the two form a friendship, that becomes an attraction. However, her failure to scare Jack from the house is seen as failure by her boss, and another agent is put on the case.
It’s a small subgenre for sure, but A Ghost Waits follows in the eerie footsteps of trans-corporeal romances like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Warm Bodies, Soulmate, and Nina Forever. The divide between the living and dead here is a metaphor for the loneliness of both of the central characters, and the difficulty they have in relating to other people. Jack is so removed from human interaction, he’ll chat away to a toilet as he fixes it. Muriel has spent 200 years making sure her interactions with humans are centred around terror rather than conversation. Yet, the chemistry between them is evident and is the reason why the film works. Andrews is a goofy, likeable everyman with a real sense of curiosity about the world beyond. Walker has a lovely, clipped demeanour, like that of a Victorian governess, with the diction to match.
Technically, the film is less impressive. The handheld camera wobbles alarmingly when on the move, and the snowy monochrome occasionally highlights the minimal extent of the makeup budget more than it obfuscates, despite that clearly being the reason why Stovall made that visual choice. One other slight flaw is that while A Ghost Waits is billed as a horror-comedy there are practically zero genuine scares. That’s clearly down to the film being mis-marketed, but it’s a shame when it otherwise makes inventive and self-referential use of haunted house staples, particularly when the second ghost Rosie (Sydney Vollmer) is thrown into the mix. ‘I’m not frightened,’ insists Jack, discovering Rosie lurking round another blind corner, ‘She just made me jump!’
The ending too is likely to divide opinion. It arguably goes to a darker place than the idiosyncratic tone adopted for the rest of the film, and could be seen as a dangerous endorsement of a rather emotive subject. It is undoubtedly bold writing and manages to tie in coherently with the film’s themes and avoids flippancy towards the subject. Entirely reasonable arguments could be made whether the climax is a logical progression of the central relationship, or whether it’s a misguided romanticisation of a difficult topic. It works, but it lends the film a queasy edge that it otherwise doesn’t have and could leave a sour taste.
Despite evident flaws, A Ghost Awaits is another great example of Arrow Video supporting continuing to support fiercely independent filmmaking, having in recent months championed shoestring genre fare like After Midnight and The Deeper You Dig. With savvy, intelligent writing, and that thoroughly winning central pairing of MacLeod Andrews and Natalie Walker, it could easily become both a cult favourite and inspiration for other filmmakers with a good idea, but limited resources. It doesn’t quite deserve the critical lionisation it’s received in some quarters, but it’s a curious and charming romance with an inquisitive metaphysical heart.
Available to stream on the Arrow Video channel now