Editor’s Note: Pay the Ghost opened in limited theatrical release September 18, 2015.
Eventually, there will come a point when Nicolas Cage will no longer disappoint us. The Oscar-winner, whose previous work includes Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas and…Con Air, has now seemingly committed himself to starring in some of the most incompetent major releases of recent times: Left Behind, Drive Angry, The Croods, Outcast, The Wicker Man. A filmography of such illustrious banality would end most peoples’ careers. Alas, Cage continues to haunt our screens with a distinct mix of monotony and melodrama. In his latest insult to the cinema, the profoundly idiotic chiller Pay the Ghost, he plays an English professor whose son disappears on Halloween night. Meanwhile, the audience disappears from the auditorium to escape the overwhelming boredom Pay the Ghost will impose on them. Not only is it one of the year’s absolute worst films, it could well be the ultimate low-point of Cage’s career. How is that even remotely possible? Let us find out…
Not only is it one of the year’s absolute worst films, it could well be the ultimate low-point of Cage’s career.
The opening twenty minutes, though hardly great, show promise for a mature, character-driven tale of loss and redemption. When distant father Mike Cole (Cage) takes his son Charlie to a Halloween parade, before Charlie mysteriously vanishes, to the anguish of devoted mother Kristen (The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies, too busy cashing in the paycheque to actually act). One year later, the now-obsessed Mike uncovers clues that seem to suggest Charlie was taken by the ghost (cue shocked gasp!) of a Celtic mother whose own children were killed by early colonists. An interesting set-up for an emotionally charged meditation on parenthood, respect and cultural appropriation, correct? Not for writer Daniel Kay and director Uli Edel, who instead envision 90 minutes of endless jump scares (invariably signifying nothing) and acting so hammy, you’ll swear the casting team auditioned at a local butcher’s. It really is a film solely consisting of Nicolas Cage shuddering at LOUD NOISES in the one of the laziest attempts at horror these eyes have ever witnessed.
Cage, whose over-the-top style can often provide much-needed respite from the sheer awfulness surrounding him, may as well be asleep for the amount of effort he gives here.
Jump scares are so prevalent in the nadir of modern film, modern American horror movies, that they can now qualify as an epidemic. The most insulting aspect of this lecherous trend is just how little effort they take to employ. Dull the noise in a scene; wait a moment; introduce an ear-piercingly garish sound effect; rinse and repeat until your audience become numb for lack of intellectual stimulation. Worst of all: the movie has precisely zero to offer beyond this hackneyed excuse for entertainment! Cage, whose over-the-top style can often provide much-needed respite from the sheer awfulness surrounding him, may as well be asleep for the amount of effort he gives here.
Not a single thing about Pay the Ghost works. The evidently low budget lends the visuals a cheap made-for-TV ugliness, the acting ranges from lifeless to wholly absent and Edel’s direction is pitiful. In Pay the Ghost, Edel and Kay have done what many consider impossible: made a film with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Failing to even be bad in a way that warrants anger or disgust, it will leave you cold, beaten and depressed, but not in a good way. Recommended for severe masochists only.
A thoroughly painful and useless film, Pay the Ghost may be the absolute low point of Nicolas Cage's already lackluster career.