Pay The Ghost (2015)

Evil walks among us

Writer: Dan Kay
Director: Uli Edel

Nicolas Cage is a fine actor who has in recent years taken on some really bad films to pay the bills: Knowing (2009), Season Of The Witch (2011) and Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2011) spring to mind even without the disastrous 2006 Wicker Man remake. For me his presence in a movie has become more of warning flag than a selling point.

So does Pay The Ghost break the Curse of Cage?

The story revolves around English teacher Mike Lawford (Cage) and, to a lesser extent, his wife Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies). One Halloween evening Mike is out at a carnival with his seven year old son Charlie (Jack Fulton). Charlie has been seeing strange things – even stranger than normal for Halloween. When Mike goes to buy him a treat Charlie asks “Can we pay the ghost?”… and vanishes.

Despite frantic searches there’s no sign of Charlie. Over the months that follow Mike obsessively searches the records of missing children and discovers that there are an unusual number of disappearances every Halloween. This leads him to investigate further and he discovers a link to a story of witchcraft from the time of the early settlers.

It’s a concept with potential, based on a short story by highly respected author Tim Lebbon. I haven’t read the original but find it hard to believe that Lebbon could have written a mess like this.

The film starts with a cloyingly sentimental ten minutes setting up the family relationship and showing us that this is one of the best days of Mike’s life.
This felt like an emotional sledgehammer, and not in a good way. We don’t need that much cuteness and the contrast to remind us that losing a child is a Bad Thing. However there were some nice moments of foreshadowing which gave me hope. The scene of Charlie’s disappearance is very well done.

But then it all falls apart. Between the sentimental beginning and the ludicrous ending we have an unending stream of set pieces that seem to have been chosen simply because they’d look good on screen. Which, to be fair, they do. The problem is that there’s absolutely no coherent storyline holding them together. Nonsensical and cliched elements include a psychic being thrown across the room, a blind beggar who Knows Things and some very dubious Celtic ‘mythology’.

And between these unrelated visuals we have Cage and Callies acting well but coming across as if they were in the wrong film. The overall impression is of missing child melodrama with random horror scenes attached; a collection of impressive set pieces that make for a great trailer but don’t gel into a movie.

Pay The Ghost isn’t the worst film Cage has made in the last ten years, but that’s not really saying much.