A Ghost Waits
Directed by Adam Stovall
Review by Barbara Popel
Movies about ghosts are perennially popular, ranging from The Amityville Horror to Ghostbusters to The Eternal Daughter. But have you heard of A Ghost Waits? It’s a 2020 micro-budget horror/romcom which has a “93 per cent fresh” critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered a four-star review in the Guardian newspaper. The film, the director Adam Stovall, and the two principal actors, MacLeod Andrews (Andrews also co-wrote the screenplay with Stovall) and Natalie Walker won top prizes at Screamfest, FrightFest and the Nevermore festival. Not too shabby for a first effort by Stovall and his crew.
A Ghost Waits starts off as a classic haunted house story. There’s this nondescript rental two-storey house in suburban Cincinnati. Whenever new tenants move in, they rapidly leave with no explanation, often leaving all their possessions behind them in their haste. We see one young couple and their two kids scared out of their wits – and out of the house – by a terrifying dark haired female ghost who hovers near the ceiling. The ghost smiles, satisfied with the result.
Pardon me, she’s a “spectral agent” – it’s 2021 and ghosts have been rebranded.
The property management company that owns the house sends a handyman, Jack (MacLeod Andrews), to prep the place so it can be rented again. And, while he’s at it, could Jack find out what’s causing all the tenants to break their leases and leave. Jack is a lonely guy, but he’s happy with the work he does. (How often do we see a blue collar worker doing his job and taking great pride in his work…what a rare sight that is in the movies!)
Jack does his “diagnostics” of what works and whether anything needs to be repaired or cleaned. Initially, he’s oblivious to the doors opening by themselves, odd noises, even a woman’s voice harmonizing with him when he’s singing a romantic song.
That night, Jack has to stay in the house because none of his acquaintances will let him crash at their places while his apartment building is being fumigated. He goes to sleep in his sleeping bag on the living room floor. The ghost (Natalie Walker) finally gets his attention when he wakes up upstairs in the one of the beds, with a metronome ticking away. Jack gets up, there are thumping and sobbing sounds, he reaches for the door handle and…! But nope, his alarm goes off and he wakes up in his sleeping bag. Just a bad dream, he thinks.
In the morning, Jack hangs around the house, waiting for the movers who will pack and remove several households’ worth of stuff. And that’s when Muriel (for that’s the ghost’s – sorry, spectral agent’s – name) asks him, “Why are you here?” “To fix the house,” he says (where is this woman’s voice coming from??). “This house is not broken,” she says. “I like your singing…You should do it somewhere else.” Then Muriel ramps up her haunting – the door bell rings when no one’s there, Jack’s “diagnostics” tape marks all over the house disappear, then – disaster! His pizza disappears! Jack has another scary night and another very weird “dream,” this one involving Muriel being his double. And in the morning, Muriel throws all her haunting arsenal at Jack – crying babies, music that won’t stop, banging doors, unearthly screaming – and Jack meets Muriel face to face. He runs screaming from the house.
Then the film takes a surprising but believable turn into romcom territory.
There’s so much to love about this film. The haunting scenes are genuinely scary, particularly because of the black-and-white cinematography and the excellent sound cues. With a dandy script and excellent actors, you care what happens to Jack and Muriel. Muriel’s boss is a letter-perfect minor bureaucrat…and hilarious given she’s managing a bunch of spectral agents whose job is to haunt houses “because that’s what we do”. The director has chosen great indie songs for Jack to play and for background music. All of this, and the film was made on a shoestring budget. Impressive. A Ghost Waits has got horror, humour and heart. Highly recommended!
Running time: 79 minutes
Available on YouTube movies, Google Play and Apple TV
Barb Popel has been an avid filmgoer since the early 1970s. In her twice-monthly column Magic in the Dark in Apt613.ca, she recommends upcoming films at the ByTowne and the Mayfair.