by Travis Keune
If you were to combine GROUNDHOG’S DAY with THE SIXTH SENSE and add some of HBO’s original series IN TREATMENT, what would you get? Well, it would probably be a big mess, but it could begin to resemble something like H.P. Mendoza’s I AM A GHOST. If there’s one thing we have no shortage of in theaters today, its ghost stories, particularly ones that focus on the unfortunate living who are haunted and terrorized by some rarely-seen, malicious paranormal entity. Not that this is bad, but as with all things… its nice to have a change of pace at times.
Thank you, H.P. Mendoza, writer and director of the low-budget, indie horror film I AM A GHOST. What makes this such a refreshing little flick? Mendoza turns the table. I AM A GHOST doesn’t focus on the living, you know… those mostly oblivious, often illogical humans who go into dark basements without a flashlight after hearing creepy noises. Instead, Mendoza focuses on the ghost, or spirit, or whatever you want to call her.
Emily, played by Anna Ishida, is a confused spirit, repeatedly haunted her own house, day after day, following the same routine, struggling to figure out why she can’t move on. In the beginning, her eternity seems like a grueling Hell of monotonous boredom. Frankly, the beginning third of the film could seem quite pointless, if not for a nagging curiosity that revolves around getting an inside look at the life of a ghost. Haven’t you ever wondered what their day is like, I mean, when they’re not trying to scare off the inhabitants.
With each repetition, each time we go through the motions with Emily, a little more is revealed and we get a little closer to the dark secret that lies behind Emily’s being trapped in her own house. I AM A GHOST is strictly a psychological thriller, but is a mystery as well, as she attempts to solve her own afterlife dilemma. The only assistance Emily receives comes in the form of a woman’s voice, a medium brought into the house on a regular basis to communicate with Emily. We never see the medium, but only hear her voice off camera as she guides Emily through a ritual of making peace with her demons and moving on. This doesn’t go well at first, but eventually a breakthrough is made and the horrifying truth is revealed that will shock audiences, emotionally and physically.
I AM A GHOST is a true pioneer of modern indie horror filmmaking. Where PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sparked a financial goldmine with its approach to utilizing technology as a crutch for low-budget horror, Mendoza shuns most of the technological approach — albeit some does trickle in with positive effects in the end — favoring instead a twist on storytelling and perspective. We rarely have the opportunity to feel empathy for and connect with the departed. Not since BEETLEJUICE have I cared about the ghostly main characters as “good guys,” exceptmaybe for THE SIXTH SENSE, but that doesn’t count because of its reliance on the twist ending.
I AM A GHOST does have a twist at the end, a damn good one if you ask me, but the entire film doesn’t hinge on that one plot device. Its a smart, thought-provoking final act, as well as frightening, but its Mendoza’s ability to craft a character we come to appreciate that really sells the ending. If, by the end of the film, we aren’t emotionally invested in Emily’s story, it just becomes another scary horror movie about something bad Hellbent on causing an innocent harm… and those are a dime a dozen.