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I Am A Ghost

Review by Jonathan Newman, Philadelphia Examiner

Rating: 4 stars

June 24, 2012

The First Unitarian Church, within Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse District, served last week as a venue for many films’ screenings within the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, one shown being H.P. Mendoza’s haunting (no pun intended) psychological and supernatural thriller, “I Am A Ghost.” The screening began this Sunday early morning, just past midnight.

It is an extraordinary work, mostly because it manages to blend horrific, psychological realism with the realms of a very personalized character study, all the while being truly original, transcending any ersatz comparison to “Paranormal Activity”, “The Shining”, “The Sixth Sense” and so on. It borrows and utilizes many traditional filmic methods to convey supernatural terror and otherworldly ambiance, yet manages to create its own experimental, time-spliced, emotionally-split psychoses which inhabit the viewers’ mind and comprehension. You truly feel, as those who first witnessed Hitchcock’s “Psycho” decades ago, like you are watching something new and exciting- because this film genuinely is, and effective in its authenticity. Like the best filmmakers working today, of whom H.P. is definitely one, Mendoza’s screenplay is intelligent and entertaining at once, refusing to treat its audience with anything less than intellectual respect for our ability to sort through disparate, seemingly disconnected images and flashbacks/flash forwards to reach a cohesive understanding of his narrative arc.

With that said, there were two very specific films Mendoza seems to pay homage to, on a very subtle level- and whether unconsciously or consciously, I will never know: Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others”, as well as Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona.”

Like Amenabar’s exquisite, aforementioned film, there is a Victorian element of historicity, beautifully juxtaposed against the Asian woman Anna Ishida, an actress whose prodigious talent and emotional capacity carry the film forward and enable Mendoza’s whole enterprise. Ishida can be seen as an eerie correlation to Nicole Kidman’s role in Amenabar’s work, and arguably displays a much more powerful performance than Kidman was ever able to summon. And just as Ingmar Bergman explored the recesses of a troubled personality within his groundbreaking “Persona”, Mendoza’s film utilizes similar techniques of setting, circumambulatory action and a slow-building climax (or perhaps climaxes) to convey the mental edifice of his story.

Without giving too much away, Mendoza’s story succinctly explores themes of trauma, self-inflicted violence, mental disorder and spirituality in a way that only horror can unforgettably convey. It pushes the envelope of what disturbed characterizations can reveal and articulate about our souls, our universe, and any theological frameworks to which we desperately cling. The repetition, scenes of daily life, inner demonic revelations and psychological avenues of mediating between dimensions separated and yet closely joined bring to mind the spiritualism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, treated with the expertise of a twenty-first century filmmaker.

In short, this is a brilliant film, by a brilliant mind and a talent to surely watch. It manages, at last, to harbor the very best of the physiological, psychological and dare I say embryological elicitations that “The Exorcist” achieved decades ago. Mendoza has created, in the same vein, an unforgettable and meaningful work of art. It will stand the test of time. Highly, highly recommended!