CFF 2024: GHOST GAME is a worthy followup to THE STYLIST

The Stylist, which World Premiered at the virtual Celebration of Fantastic Fest back in 2020, was an impressively crafted exploration of female pathos by Jill Gevargizian, who infused the story of a killer stylist with her own life experiences as a hairdresser. I think that grounded that particular character in a way that gave the young auteur her breakout and would have the film winning over audiences at every festival thereafter. Well, here we are, four years later and Jill is back with her follow up. This is of special note to me, since the film was written by Philly’s own Adam Ceaser, the hardest working man in teen horror literature, who’s probably best known for his Clown in a Cornfield series. (Third book dropping soon!)

Jill’s latest, Ghost Game is a clear statement on the current climate on social media hijinks, where terrible behavior online is rewarded with digital clout. This sentiment manifests itself in the film as an online trend called “Ghost Game”. This has its players breaking into and then hiding in strangers homes and terrorizing them, making their houses appear haunted. Cameras are also placed in and around the home and of course the footage then is ingested and digested and posted online. This film follows a young couple who hope to galvanize their troubled union by partaking in their first Ghost Game together in the rumored haunted Halton House. Embracing one of the most time honored tropes in haunted house movies, it also just got some new owners in the form of a family who are just moving in. 

The hook is, it becomes quickly apparent however, to both our players and their prey that something else is going on as our players and the family start to experience phenomena that wasn’t intentionally set up by their unwanted guests. 

Like her last film, Game relies on a solid cast of fresh faces to invest us in this story that feels nearly plausible. I did, however, happen to notice one of the cast was fellow female director Emily Bennett (Director of the excellent Alone with You), who plays the mother of a young woman on the spectrum caught in this game. The player couple at the center of the film, played by Zaen Haidar and Kia Dorsey, really invests you in not only the game itself, but its moral implications as the writer father of the family turns out to be not only an alcoholic, but abusive and this splits the couple on how to handle this development. It’s a layer, like the little girl’s autism that added flourishes to a story that could have been just your standard haunter or broad horror thriller. 

Jill Gevargizian’s follow up to The Stylist, has the same scrappy charm, energy and ultra-violence as her previous film along with toying with some timely issues this time around. It’s also a bit more ambitious in its world building and scope, which makes me wonder what the future holds for the director, who shows yet again how far she can stretch a budget. The smart move here given that there were more than a few social media-esque narratives recently in the indie sphere is, Jill realized the real story is the people behind the screen rather in front of it. I think that what really made Ghost Game work for me and this was no doubt thanks to Adam’s script, is it wasn’t purely about the game, but the folks caught up in it, and their tangled relationships. 

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