Bleakly mysterious, Ghost Wars works because it almost seems on the very fringe of paranormal–backed by a convincing ensemble who’ll make you see ghosts.
The Show: Ghost Wars
The Network: Syfy
The Genre: Horror/Drama/Science-fiction
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Horror flicks are to viewers like a Muggle is to Amortentia, and Syfy knows this. Ghost Wars, the latest offering, stars Avan Jogia as Roman Mercer, a gifted psychic from the remote town of Port Moore, Alaska. After an earthquake stuns the small, isolated town, the population become dominated by the paranormal. And they aren’t all here to go fishing, either. No, these ain’t no Caspers. These are ghosts that implant visions within people’s minds, to exploit their deepest fears and secrets. As the death toll rises in Port Moore, Roman must overcome the town’s prejudice towards him as he is the only one who can see through such visions.
Meanwhile, physicist Landis Barker (Kandyse McClure) is shaken at the possibility of causing the earthquake as a result of one of her experiments. Determined to make things right, she sets out to quantify the meaning of the town’s strange happenings. Ghost Wars also stars Kim Coates, Vincent D’Onofrio, Luvia Petersen, Sonja Bennett, Meat Loaf, Sarah Giles, Allison James and Kristin Lehman.
Ghost Wars probably shouldn’t work, with its cliched pilot and overused plot…but it reels you in.
It’s all very…eighties horror flick, isn’t it?
But–and it’s a very big but–that’s probably where the shoddy comparisons end. Ghost Wars is another offering Syfy’s handing over. With fresh-faced talent like Jogia and McClure leading the cast, it’s safe to say that the ensemble is, whilst not perfect, strong enough.
Everything that happens in the dully, bleakly shot Port Moore feels quite expected. Nothing seems too surprising except for the occasional jump-scare. Frankly, that tactic is overused and over time, nullifies any sensation of scariness. But once we’re introduced to the purpose of these paranormal troublemakers, the problem the town faces and the solution–which is cruelly destroyed–then we’re treading water.
Every show has a potential for action. Honestly, Ghost Wars could likely go on for five seasons, Walking Dead-style, by killing or putting down every petulant ghost in Port Moore. But it’s cleverer than that. There’s an explanation we’ll find out soon, probably. And yes, the effect the earthquake and ensuing paranormal activity has on the townsfolk is endless and horrifying. It makes for good television. Yet even by episode three it’s stagnated. The saving grace is Landis Walker, who is by far the best character, running around and doing her job. Everyone else, though they can’t really help it, just seems to mope.
We know, we know: Syfy’s too clever to just fudge it up like that. Ghost Wars has an interesting premise. However, scare after scare means it’s just not scary. So if you think about it: reeling the audience in is fantastic, but how long are we supposed to remain engrossed for?
The best thing about Ghost Wars is probably the ambiguity, and it could very well fade.
A very compelling aspect of Ghost Wars is the fight–or not–between religion and science (or, er, ‘pseudo-science’). It’s an especially obvious theme when you remember one of the main characters is D’Onofrio’s Father Dan. And like any kid who can, let’s say, see through the dead’s implanted visions, Roman’s an instant outcast. When the earthquake occurs, he’s everyone’s scapegoat.
Refreshingly, it no longer becomes the age-old battle between Dan Brown’s Jesus theories versus the Vatican. Syfy calls it Ghost Wars: we see humanity, struggling and fighting and breaking–together. Creator Simon Barry could easily have pitted the two sectors against each other, but he didn’t. Instead, they’re forced to work together.
Unfortunately, that’s where the problem comes in. If it’s truly just paranormal and Port Moore’s doomed, then no matter how ingenious the story could be, it’s ten seasons of Supernatural. If Landis figures out how to right her wrong, then the problem’s solved. There is no room for “what if”–or if there is, then there’s a very short time limit to it.
It’s not really a criticism, because some of the best shows end after a season or two. Truthfully, Ghost Wars has at least another or two entertaining seasons in it. In a time where every fan wants every series to go on forever, that may not be good news. But sometimes the best thing is when a creator realises when a story is ripe for ending. Take Michelle Lovretta’s Killjoys: it could’ve gone on forever, and not lost an ounce of its entertainment. But Lovretta knew. And the only note we have is that we hope Barry is of the same mentality. After all: every story has an end.
“Who’s in charge now?” Landis. Always Landis.
Avan Jogia is an hugely compelling leading man. Handsome, scruffy, unassuming and understated, Jogia’s mostly perfect for the role. Roman could have been the worst character ever. Yes, he has a bit of a self-pity explosion in the first episode, but considering the way the town treats him, who blames him? Roman appeals because he understands what anybody else would be afraid of: the unknown. It’s not unknown to him, so he is who he is. But he doesn’t show off, and he’s not some spoilt brat. Neither is he a whining teenager who bemoans his tragic existence every ten seconds.
Ghost Wars: we’re grateful.
But by far, the best character is Landis Walker. The ensemble isn’t massively strong nor cohesive. So far, it’s quite aloof and there are obvious weak spots. Nobody’s bad, though. It’s just that nobody quite kicks ass like Landis. When asked if she wants to get scared…
Landis: “Yeah. For science.”
This chick is going to save the world and become queen. Mark our words. She also has the funniest exchange with a barista about a flat white (what is this place? You think a flat white’s a cappuccino? What is wrong with you?) in a relatively unfunny show. But episode three, despite the story starting to mould slightly, is kickstarted by the fact that it’s Landis-centric.
Her sequence in the lift as she hallucinates Chloe (Camille Atebe) is not only clever in that we know Landis is claustrophobic, but it’s that horrible stench of guilt McClure emits. The visual effects of the ‘experiment’ she conducts and the superior acting makes her a surefire winner. She’s a keeper.
And guys, it’s not a collider, it’s an “accelerator”. Jeez. Get it right.
Ghost Wars isn’t the most sophisticated or the funniest, cleverest piece of television you’ll see all year, but it’s a solid, unassuming effort.
Oh, we love it when a show is so massively hyped and then turns out to be brilliant. It’s the most rewarding feeling. But occasionally, a show will shuffle along, charm the audience, and smile awkwardly as you applaud it. Ghost Wars is that kind of show. It didn’t possess the hype that fellow Syfy class-favourite Wynonna Earp did, but that didn’t stop its sheer quality.
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Thankfully, the dialogue is okay, too. There’s a wealth of idiotic quotes that could come out regarding religion and science, but this works.
Father: “The bible’s got serpents, angels, spirits…it is a little ‘woo-woo’. There are things we’re not supposed to comprehend, yet we accept it.”
Simon Barry should be proud. That’s not a condescending statement, either, though it’s not a proclamation of ingenuity. Barry’s script can be fumbly and a little too obvious sometimes. Though visually gorgeous (high five, Adam Stern!) some scenes lack a little finesse. The execution is fine. As grim as it sounds, the deaths are suitably gory (yet not over the top). What misses the target a bit is the predictability of the situation and the lead-up.
However, when it works, it works. The pilot episode did a considerably good job of wondering what on earth this priest guy was preaching about–only to let the story unfold and cleverly turn back to the beginning scene. It’s classic television, but hey: classic works.
Also, the show succeeds in some quality collocation that’s just uncomfortable. The notion of a child working alongside his mother in the morgue may not be strange to everyone (it is, though, right?) but when it’s so predictable that the corpse will wake, it’s worse. And that’s when making the script predictable does work.
FINAL VERDICT: Syfy’s upped the arsenal for its assault on television monopoly with yet another entertaining, compelling piece of entertainment.
Ghost Wars is a peculiar one to critique because it’s not addictive. Quite easily, if someone told you “dinner’s ready!” you’d leap from your seat and chomp down that lasagne. At the same time, you find yourself clicking automatically from the premiere to the second episode, and then the third…
Perhaps it’s paranormal activity at full-force. Who knows? Simon Barry’s promising efforts at a true horror that isn’t too cliche-ridden is great. And the discovery of Jogia as a likeable protagonist when Roman could’ve been a whiny idiot is impressive. Jogia has charisma that shines but doesn’t quite match Kandyse McClure’s effervescent Landis Walker.
Port Moore’s appropriately bleak setting is nicely achieved by its various episodic directors–all briefed similarly by Barry. Throughout each episode, there’s a soft, blue-green hue to the shadows of the images that are aesthetically pleasing in addition to the supposed greyness. Its cinematography and shot location is really pleasant to the eye–something that contradicts heavily to its grim, deathly setting. There’s not supposed to be any real life here–not soon, anyway. But a bit of saturation gives a little hope. Nobody’s here for Silent Hill, but Ghost Wars combines a pleasing mix of wry humour and genuine horror that, whilst not award-winning, is certainly intriguing to say the least.
GHOST WARS airs THURSDAY, 2nd NOVEMBER, at 10/9c on Syfy
In a series of successes by Syfy, Ghost Wars is another addition to its impressive catalogue of winners, and we’re all here to be horrified by the mysteries of Port Moore. Armed with a likeable protagonist, a genius theoretical physicist who will save the world with flat white coffees, and an all-too-convincing Meat Loaf, Ghost Wars could be one of the biggest, underrated surprises thus far. So keep tuning into TV After Dark for further articles and livetweets!
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