I Am a Ghost
Most horror films today seem to put less of an emphasis on form, which makes I Am a Ghost such a breath of fresh air.
Most horror films today seem to put less of an emphasis on form, which makes I Am a Ghost such a breath of fresh air. The opening 15 minutes, which brings to mind the work of Chantal Akerman and Michael Haneke more than any horror icon, immediately set H.P. Mendoza’s film apart from the genre’s usual output. Emily (Anna Ishida) lives alone in a large Victorian style house doing very little. For the most part her actions are mundane, whether it’s making breakfast or cleaning around the house.
The fragmented nature of these actions (all of them separated by a hard cut to black) combined with Mendoza’s striking compositions implies something isn’t right, and soon the same scenes begin repeating themselves as if the film is stuck in a loop. The monotony is finally broken when a disembodied voice belonging to a medium (Jeannie Barroga) begins talking. Emily is (unsurprisingly) the titular ghost, with the home’s current residents hiring the medium to help move Emily along to the other side. All the usual tactics to help spirits move on to the other side aren’t working, making the medium and the ghost work together to figure out what’s holding Emily back from leaving the house.
Viewers willing to stick around after the opening act will be rewarded once Mendoza finally starts to show his hand. Once the realization of the film’s subjective point of view kicks in a more conventional form begins to take shape with the narrative. What’s most interesting is Mendoza’s portrayal of Emily’s purgatory as an infinite loop of daily routines, her ghost aimlessly replaying memories of everyday chores unaware of her undead status. It’s a unique take on the afterlife that stands out even more with the decision to set things entirely in the realm of the afterlife. Out of every shock and scare throughout I Am a Ghost, it’s the depressing banality of the ‘other side’ that ends up being the most unsettling aspect of the film.
The final act, where things take a turn towards more predictable horror fare, is a slight step down from the more refreshing material that came before it. The focus begins to move away from the mysterious atmosphere established by the house and moves towards jump scares and special effects. The ending’s execution may have felt lacking, but I Am a Ghost has plenty to like. Ishida, carrying the entire film on her shoulders, turns Emily into a compelling and sympathetic character by the end, but the real star is Mendoza. Having a hand in seemingly every aspect (he has too many credits to list in this review), Mendoza shows a strong and well-realized vision that cleverly works around the limitations of indie and DIY filmmaking.
I Am a Ghost is currently undistributed (which seems unfair given the schlock getting dumped out on to VOD nowadays) but anyone wanting to watch an original new horror film should try to seek it out.