The new film Ghosts of the Void is a welcome surprise, and one of the most unique uses of the horror genre I've seen in a long time. The director's assured style is established in the first shot: a conversation in a car, in which only one participant is scene and that’s in a rear-view mirror. This simple setup provides exposition, including one character's isolation, in such a way that one thinks, "This guy knows what he’s doing."
"This guy" is Jason Miller. He's known for a short film, The Whisperers (2015). Ghosts of the Void is his first directorial effort, and it shows taste, restraint, and confidence. Mr. Miller takes his time here, with long sequences that reveal important details. The flashiest he gets is an impressive 360-degree pan at exactly the right moment.
The premise is simple: Jen and Tyler's car is parked on a camp road, just outside a country club. It's night. Through dialogue and contained gestures (Mr. Millers also wrote the script), their situation gradually becomes clear: they live in their car, their only possession of value a mattress tied off on the roof. They are comfortable with each other, their banter easy and finely modulated.
Turns out, Jen and Tyler are at their wit's end. Out of money, out of gas, out of luck, and of course, no phone signal. They eat peanut butter out of a jar as dinner. They are stuck in this car, in the dark, because they have no place else to go.
Jen is rightly nervous about the future. In flashbacks we learn Tyler is a failed novelist, and she has supported him financially and morally. But his lack of success has created problems. Jen believes in him through it all, but the creditors have forced them to flee. When things go kazooey and Tyler acts recklessly, she reminds him that this "how debt crept up on us in the first place, our not thinking things through." It's a portentous statement. The state of affairs is even worse than Jen knows: in addition to everything else Tyler is a secret drinker.
But they are not alone in the darkness. A car with bright headlights pulls up behind them and idles ominously until it pulls away. A drone cruises them. The dark figure of a homeless man pushing a shopping cart startles Jen when she opens her eyes from sleep. While they sleep, someone puts a lock on their wheel. Something’s waiting in the shadows but we don’t know what.
The actors are low key and convincing. It's essentially a two-person scenario. Tedra Millan (Jen) and Michael Reagan (Tyler) give measured performances, so naturalistic and controlled one nearly forgets they're acting.
Nathan Salter's cinematography and Brendan Jamison's editing create an ominous environment of shadows. The music by Devin Delaney and sound design by Noise Floor Ltd. propel and shape the action.
The claustrophobic mood might remind you of Tom Hardy's virtuosic performance in Locke, or the atomic woodsmen of David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return ("Got a light?"). But Ghosts is uniquely its own.
Will it disappoint some that the titular ghosts are mostly metaphorical? I think not. The climax has enough genre tropes to satisfy. Mr. Miller lets his plot coil out like a poisonous snake, so I won't tell too much here. Suffice it to say that you're kept off balance and unlikely to predict the film's true subtext until the final shot, over which the credits scroll, and which is a stunner. It takes us back to the George Carlin quote that opens the film, and the true impact of what we’ve witnessed.
Ghosts of the Void plays like an extended Twilight Zone episode, its purpose just as socially and politically astute as anything Rod Serling created. Jason Miller has important things to say about enablers, codependents, domestic violence, and status, and that he chooses to say it within the horror genre is important and profound.
Ghost of the Void. Directed by Jason Miller. 2023. Released by Speakeasy Pictures. 91 minutes. Available on VOD and digital platforms.