I’m a Nicolas Cage fan, no two ways about it. I know that if I’m watching a movie with Nic Cage in it, I’ll be at least mildly entertained. Consistency is a quality to be prized, depending on context; obviously, some things are consistently awful, like mayonnaise and root canals. Nic Cage is not like mayonnaise and root canals.
Pay the Ghost is a fun movie, imaginative and disturbing. It was based off of a novella by Tim Lebbon, whom I’ve never read before but deserves great respect for being a successful writer. The film has one great strength that makes it worth watching and one titanic weakness that almost made me turn it off. I’m glad I didn’t.
The strength is in the portrayal of how Mike (Nic Cage) and Kristen’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) son Charlie goes missing. You know what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t lessen the tension in the lead-up, the panic in the event, and the grief afterward. As a parent, it becomes very easy to identify with the loss of a child: every missing or kidnapped child becomes your own, if only for a moment. That part was very well done. Callies always seems to take thankless, unlikable roles, like the doctor in Prison Break and Lori in The Walking Dead: it’s not her performance that makes you dislike her, but the writing. This unlikability carries over in Pay the Ghost, where her character Kristen immediately blames Mike for losing the boy, and even later, in the aftermath, continues to hold him responsible.
And this is where the weakness comes in: a year later, after they’ve separated, both Mike and Kristen get intimations that Charlie is asking for their help, reaching out to them from some other place. Later, when Kristen approaches Mike with news of her occult visitations with Charlie, Mike immediately and pathetically accepts her as if nothing had happened in the intervening year. No acknowledgment of Kristen’s venomous words or behavior, and most importantly, no apology from Kristen. It threw me off, made me like both Mike and the movie a bit less.
The addition of a sexy German folklore professor played by Veronica Ferres and harried cop played by Lyriq Bent didn’t do a lot for the film’s plot or interest: both could have been fleshed out a little more. Stephen McHattie had a great little cameo as a blind homeless man (a sentence that both amuses and depresses in equal measure).
Overall, though, I enjoyed the movie and recommend it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.