Jason King, Bo, Dannie Formosa
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…undeniably heartbreaking but intriguing nonetheless.
Ghosthunter is a film about hunting ghosts, but not in the sense that Ghostbusters is a film about hunting ghosts. While ‘real’ ghost hunting does occasionally occur, the film’s title alludes to a far deeper meaning. Our protagonist, Jason, spends much of the film searching for the ghosts of his past; people and places long forgotten by him but vital to the sort of person he has become.
While Ghosthunter moves at an engaging pace, to the audience the real development is within Jason himself. Within the first few shots of the documentary he is presented as an intimidating figure: a scar running down the side of his face and tattoos up his arms. As the plot progresses, so does Jason, and by the end of the movie we are presented with a completely different person. A victim of abusive parents, Jason’s agitation is apparent – has he become his father or is he his own person? If it were not a documentary, Jason’s development could easily be the centre of a biopic. It’s undeniably heartbreaking but intriguing nonetheless.
Ghosthunter follows in the footsteps of many of its American contemporaries (Making a Murderer, among others) by pairing its gripping plot with stylishly heightened filmmaking. Hospital records and photos are enhanced, text messages are superimposed and key events are recreated with effective results. Telephone conversations are played back over shots of Jason at work – an idea that sounds mundane but has spectacularly eerie results. One particularly atmospheric scene, set in a security control room, feels like it could be straight out of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive or the Safdie brothers’ Good Time. Although thematic transitions to and from these recreations feel clunky at times, they do stand as a testament to the skill of director Ben Lawrence (who, like his father Ray ‘Lantana, Bliss‘ Lawrence has mostly worked in the TVC space).
As it was filmed over a 6-year period, there are understandably a few instances where Ghosthunter loses its footing, particularly in the second half. The complications of the plot wrap themselves up within the first hour, and the final third of the movie shifts the focus back to Jason as he attempts to fix his forever-changed life. It is when the camera is on Jason, however, that Ghosthunter manages to spread its wings. Because of this, Ghosthunter works best as a character study – whether that study is Jason or his many friends and workmates, everyone seems to be hunting their own ghosts.