Review: INCIDENT IN A GHOSTLAND Is A Solid, Bloody Follow-Up To Laugier French Extremist MARTYRS

Pascal Laugier, the French filmmaker most known for his controversial film Martyrs (2008), brings us a new, twisted take on teen girl torture with his latest film Incident in a Ghostland. Full disclosure, I’ve never actually seen his notorious 2008 film. I’ve always sort of avoided seeing Martyrs altogether for the sheer fact that I’ve heard it described as some of the most brutal torture porn our beloved genre has to offer. I’ve also seen it appear in various “best of horror” lists and it’s referred to by some as a horror masterpiece, but even as a staunch horror fan, it takes a lot of convincing for me to willingly watch a film filled with that much alleged depravity, “best of” title or not. However, after seeing his latest stab at this darker, more twisted side of the horror genre, I may change my mind about watching it.

Incident in a Ghostland completely subverted my expectations and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was watching a good old fashioned horror movie like the ones I’d carefully curate from our local video rental store for Friday movie nights, albeit one I’d only recommend to fellow horror lovers with high brutality tolerances. Did it dabble in the torture porn category? Sure, and that’s still not my favorite thing, but Laugier made up for it with some reality bending twists and turns that had me completely enthralled throughout the entirety of the film’s 91 minute run time.

Ghostland begins with what appears to be a family road trip, but Pauline (Mylène Farmer) has actually just inherited a home from her deceased great-aunt and she’s taking her two daughters, Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) to live there. Vera, a salty teen, is clearly not happy about the uprooting and spends the journey dishing out sass and complaining about leaving her boyfriend behind. Beth, a seemingly meek pre-adolescent who idolizes H.P. Lovecraft and aspires to follow in the footsteps of the iconic horror writer, is less miffed and cares more about crafting spooky stories like her idol. The family is met with some bad omens along the way, like a gas station newspaper headline reading “Family killer strikes a fifth time” and a sinister ice cream truck that all but runs the family off the road, but they eventually make it to their new home. The house is filled with all sorts of oddities, from wall mounted hunting trophies to a menagerie of terrifying dolls; practically heaven on earth for drawn-to-the-darkness Beth. However, Pauline and her daughters don’t make it very far into the unpacking process before their ice cream truck stalkers catch up to them, force their way into the family’s new home, and begin brutally tormenting them.

After a big dose of intense torture, the film jumps ahead some years and we meet a grown up Beth (Crystal Reed) who is living out her fantasy of successful horror writer, while Vera (Anastasia Phillips) suffers severe psychological distress, having never recovered from that brutal night. The timelines then begin to bleed together and reality is questioned as the sisters struggle with reliving that horrific night.

Although I don’t typically rank these types of torturous films at the top of my list, I was genuinely surprised by Ghostland and enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. Laugier crafted an eerie, wicked world and cinematographer Danny Nowak captured it all perfectly. The performances are all fantastic and even though the ladies take quite a beating, I still love seeing a female driven cast. The tortuous antagonists whom we never get to know very well are effectively portrayed by Kevin Power and Rob Archer, and are only vaguely credited as the Candy Truck Woman and the Fat Man, respectively. I would have liked to have had a little backstory on the antagonistic psychopaths, but I eventually accepted their roles as more of The Strangers-esque “because you were home” type assailants. I wouldn’t recommend this film to just anyone, but if you’re a fan of the genre who can stand to sit through some cruel torture for an aesthetically pleasing and otherwise well crafted film, I suggest you consider Incident in a Ghostland for your next movie night.

Incident in a Ghostland is now available to stream on VOD and will be released on DVD July 24.