The film has moments of brilliance, but these moments are fleeting and soon-forgotten.
Ghosts with Shit Jobs (SF IndieFest)
It’s Toronto in 2040. Oscar is a digital janitor inside a virtual reality version of Google Maps in which he uses a paint roller to blur out advertisements. Gary and Karen are babymakers – they build realistic robot babies they sell and send them to China. Anton and Toph are brothers who gather and sell spider silk. Serina is a human spam ninja, who sneaks product placement into everyday conversations for money. These unlucky souls are the stars of a popular documentary show in China that follows them as they detail their strange occupations for the Chinese audience. The Chinese refer to these people who live in the slums and squalor of North America as “Ghosts” and find watching their pathetic lives unfold to be must-see television.
Directors Chris McCawley, Jim Morrison, Jim Munroe, and Tate Young’s take on the dehumanization and sterilization of North Americans is inventive, but Ghosts with Shit Jobs often falls flat in its attempts at any significant humor or drama. While the bleak future the filmmakers visualize is thought-provoking, troubling, funny, and playfully satirical, its Achilles’ heel is the underwhelming character interaction that mars the unique and intriguing concept.
The ideas presented here are comical and prophetic, echoing the great Jacques Tati’s satirical glimpses into the future, Playtime and Mon Oncle, though Ghosts doesn’t ever approach the quality of Tati’s work. To hear the “ka-ching!” sound of a register every time Serina (Rachel MacMillan) skillfully sneaks product placement into casual conversations is enjoyable, and there’s a great scene where she angrily drives off another, less clandestine spam ninja who encroaches on her territory. The film is a series of fun ideas like this, but the actors’ ho-hum performances fail to deliver the clever messages with any punch, resulting in some of the messages being lost. Jonah Hundert, who plays Anton, the more obnoxious half of the silk-gathering brothers, makes a solid attempt at providing the important central comedic role in the film, but again, doesn’t deliver the comedy with any significant impact.
The documentary-style aesthetic of the film is handled well, and there are some highly amusing sight gags that keep the film fresh. Oscar’s ventures into the virtual world contain some augmented-reality special effects that are visually striking, like when he gets chased by people with hand-drawn faces. When Karen rips a leg off of a 100% life-like baby doll she is working on and we hear the doll cry, it makes for effective cinema.
Ghosts with Shit Jobs begins to find some sort of momentum near the end, when the subjects of the television show finally meet each other, but by the time it starts to get good, it ends with a dud. There are some hollow attempts at drama in the film’s climax, and because of the shaky foundation laid out by the actors leading up to the film’s conclusion, it’s difficult to feel that the stakes have any real weight. There is a scene near the end of the film which desperately tries to generate a feeling of tension and danger but falls flat on its face. There is serious potential that lies beneath the surface of Ghosts with Shit Jobs, but sadly, it isn’t realized. The film has moments of brilliance, but these moments are fleeting and soon-forgotten.