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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Pay the Ghost  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Uli Edel.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Veronica Ferres, Lyriq Bent, Lauren Beatty, Kalie Hunter, Jack Fulton, Stephen McHattie, Susannah Hoffmann, Juan Carlos Velis.
2015 – 94 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of a PG-13 for violence, language and thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, November 17, 2015.
It has been no secret that Nicolas Cage (2012's "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance") has experienced a spot of financial trouble in recent years, a fact which has led him to headline a string of mid-level, generally generic, mostly direct-to-video projects where his grimacing, badly photoshopped mug is inevitably featured front and center on the key art. "Pay the Ghost" plays right into this hacky advertising tradition, but deserves better. As for Cage, he may be cashing a paycheck, so to speak, but there isn't a second where he appears to be phoning in his performance. A supernatural thriller with a hearty layer of atmosphere on its side, the film—directed by Uli Edel (1993's Willem Dafoe-Madonna erotic thriller "Body of Evidence") and written by Dan Kay, based on Tim Lebbon's novella—exhibits fine control of its tone and style, attentive to its characters while avoiding the threat of bad laughs from its far-flung plot.

The Halloween season appears to be treating passionate college professor Mike Lawford (Nicolas Cage) very well—he is thrilled to learn he has just received tenure—but in a flash his life comes crashing down when 7-year-old son Charlie (Jack Fulton) goes missing at a street carnival. A year later, Mike's marriage to Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies) has disintegrated, the two of them unable to move past the grief of this tragedy. Haunted by visions of Charlie everywhere he goes and unable to forget the cryptic question his son asked him before he vanished—"Can we pay the ghost?"—Mike opens up his own investigation and makes a startling discovery: exponentially more children have disappeared on October 31 and never been found than on any other day of the year. With the police no help, he and Kristen reunite to finally get to the bottom of who—or what—has taken Charlie.

As recent as five years ago, there is no doubt "Pay the Ghost" would have seen a wide theatrical release on 2,000-plus screens. With the evolution of the film distribution landscape and the arrival of VOD, however, there is little place left for a modest thriller such as this that isn't big enough or have the brand recognition to be a huge studio moneymaker. Nevertheless, Nicolas Cage and co-star Sarah Wayne Callies (2014's "Into the Storm") are committed to their roles as devastated parents facing much more than the cut-and-dry abduction of their son. More moodily spooky than scary, the picture's trajectory appears at times to skirt a pedestrian line, but keeps hold of the audience's interest levels. It's a little "Ransom," a little "Devil's Advocate," and a little "Darkness Falls" all wrapped up into one efficient, straightforward, not-overwhelming-but-certainly-diverting package.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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