by Ronny Carlsson
I've been watching several ghost movies lately, gone back to a few old and great ones (such as "The Changeling") and checked out a few I hadn't seen before. Ghost stories have always managed to creep me out the most, outside of things based on reality (since that's more plausible). Growing up I always got the chills imagining stuff like a white shape wandering down the halls. Everyone has probably experienced something strange in their lives. While most will try to find logical reason, I have always been open to it. Or rather, I find things I can't explain to be interesting, albeit a bit scary. But let's face it, the best ghost stories have been told. We've had some alright ones - I'll even admit that "Insidious" had potential, but REALLY went down hill fast. The best one in recent memory is "Lake Mungo" (some people will hate me for bringing it up again, but I don't care). But what do all of these have in common? They are horror stories, focusing on people being scared of ghosts. What I have for review today is the opposite of this, and quite frankly I think it's one of the best ghost stories I have ever seen.
The plot is extremely simple to explain: the title says it all. "I Am a Ghost" is about a ghost, trapped in the house she once lived in. She repeats every day in similar fashion. But there is someone on the other side ("our side") trying to help guide her out of there. This is an easy thing to grasp, and in some ways you might think of "The Others", but they couldn't be more different!
First of all, this is a drama. It's an extremely emotional and invested look into how it could be for a ghost. They might be victims and not out to scare us. Maybe they're as scared as we are! Our lead, Emily, is a very nice young girl. We quickly fall for her because of her innocence, and the longer we follow her the more curious we are about what happened to her when she was alive. And how will she be able to leave the afterlife? I think a movie like this saves itself by working with repetitions. Being a ghost movie, we expect repetitions so it never comes off as annoying. Rather we are trying to puzzle things together for every repeat and see how things slowly change. The most interesting scenes here are actually dialogue-driven, and that speaks highly of how well-written the movie is.
H.P. Mendoza has, overall, managed to craft an experience that I believe in. If there are ghosts, then I think this is how it is. I find it to be nearly spotless in terms of style, writing, directing, acting, the story and how it all unfolds slowly. It helps us identify with a ghost, not only through the character but in every detail. This is one of those cases where you get a sense that everything has been puzzled together perfectly during production. Even the cinematography helps us accept that we're in the afterlife - exactly how it does that I don't know, but it's a very slick movie. At times it's as if the camera was floating. Not to mention the movie is filtered to feel like an old photograph. Anna Ishida is great as Emily, and obviously the movie would've fallen flat if the lead actress couldn't play the part. There is so much about Anna Ishida that makes her perfect for the part, but I think the main reason I could accept her in the part was because of her innocent, confused eyes. The house itself has an old, charming look - and is very much a creepy place for a ghost story (even though it's not specifically creepy).
While I write this, I feel angry because I can't capture how fantastic the movie is in my own writing. "I Am a Ghost" grabbed me from the beginning, and there wasn't a second that I wasn't in awe. This is not a gory, violent, eccentric or even that experimental movie, but a perfectly executed drama about a ghost. It's the perfect ghost story because it takes time to solve the puzzle, and brings up so many points about ghosts that I've always wondered about. Most importantly: if ghosts exist, what is it like to be one? It's not going for chills, scares or even survival (which I suppose is the primal goal for every horror movie). Because it ignores all of that, we get time to invest ourselves to solve the puzzle of how to get Emily out of there, and for once we sit down and THINK. There is only one little thing that I can class as negative, and that was an effect towards the end. By then we're very into it, so at first you'll feel like you've came out of it again. But don't worry, this is where it shows an element of horror and soon you'll be as invested as you were the minute before.
I love "I Am a Ghost", and if there is ONE ghost story to watch this year (in many years, really), then this is it. You can ignore every "Paranormal Activity" movie completely, because this has them beat before the title page appears. Whatever happens in H.P. Mendoza's career from now on, he will always be the man behind "I Am a Ghost" and I hope he takes pride in that fact. "I Am a Ghost" is an incredible experience, a clever twist on ghost stories, and most of all a very sad drama that you will find yourself invested deeply in.