Oscar winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) stars in this intense and chilling thriller about one manís desperate search for his missing child. One year after his young son disappeared during a Halloween carnival, Mike Lawford (Cage) is haunted by eerie images and terrifying messages he canít explain. Together with his estranged wife (Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead), he will stop at nothing to unravel the mystery and find their sonóand, in doing so, he unearths a legend that refuses to remain buried in the past.
In the film, PAY THE GHOST, Mike Lawford is an English Professor at a New York University, working hard to earn his stay at the institution. The extra time on the job has been difficult for his Kristen, and son Charlie, and has put a strain on their family. Many a nights Mike is not there, and it is no different, when Mike shows up late on Halloween night. To make it up to him, Mike decides to take Charlie to a Halloween carnival up the street. Unfortunately, this is where things go wrong. Because, shortly after buying an ice cream cone at on of the concessions, 7 year old Charlie goes missing. Simply vanishing Mike is unable to find his son. The film then picks up almost a year later - 3 days before Halloween, to find that both Mike and Kristen are still reeling from Charlie's disappearance, and have since separated. Mike, especially, has tried to move on, however, just days before Halloween, Mike begins receiving various signs, such seeing Charlie, or simply hearing his voice. Signs that seem to indicate that Charlie may still be alive. After recalling that Charlie had said something about "paying the ghost" shortly before disappearing, Mike is taken aback, when he sees that the phrase has been spray painted along an alley wall. When Police seem to be of no use, this prompts Mike to do his own investigating, along with Kristen, his wife. Eventually Mike is able to narrow things down to an event which occurred in New York in 1679. In that year, a Celticwitch by the name of Annie, was burned at the stake, by a group of townspeople, who happened to blame her for an influenza outbreak, which claimed a lot of lives. However, not only did Annie die on that day, but so did her 3 children as well. Before her death, Annie vowed to get revenge, and every year since, she has, in the form of children. As it would seem, to get revenge for the death of her own children, each year on Halloween, the time in which the portals between her world, and ours in open, she returns to claim 3 children. Charlie Lawford just so happens to be one of those children on this given year. Armed with this knowledge, Mike must race to solve the mystery before the October holiday draws to a close, after which the otherworldly portly closes, thus sealing young Charlie's eternal fate.
Yes, Nicolas Cage was once an Academy Award Winner, and even grabbed a nom for another, however in recent years, Cage has been a participant in several releases, which come to us by way of straight-to-video. His film, PAY THE GHOST, just happens to be one of the latest.
When it comes to its own originality, PAY THE GHOST, a film which was directed by Uli Edel has very little. Structurally, PAY THE GHOST is essentially, the combination of several ideas melded into one. Initially PAY THE GHOST plays like a kidnapping cautionary tale, in which a parent loses sight of their child, only to find out that, seconds later, they're gone. The film, continues on this notion, by having, the concerned father portrayed by Cage, manually go in pursuit of finding the child. To add, there is also the dramatic element, the turmoil that the event has caused between he and his wife, played by THE WALKING DEAD's Sarah Wayne Callies. But as the story goes along, and as Mike Lawford begins to uncover the facts, the film seemingly dives head first into myth and lore, as it reveals explanations in the form of a back story of a Celtic witch, whom was once burned alive. However, it doesn't end there, because as it progresses, the film delves even further into the supernatural - CGI landscape - and all.
While watching PAY THE GHOST, the viewer gets the sense that the film is trying to "be like" several other films, with hints of films such as POLTERGEIST, INSIDIOUS and MAMA found with in. With the most prominent, being the latter two. How PAY THE GHOST relates is the fact that Charlie is trapped in some sort of otherworldly dimension, all while being held captive by a motherly ghost entity, who longs for her children. Sound familiar? It should. However, with that said, despite its familiarity, PAY THE GHOST, is still a film that is still fairly enjoyable, mostly due to the participation of the film's two leads, Cage and Wayne Callies.
Yes, the film's proceedings are somewhat cheesy, and yes even Cage is a bit over the top at times(Nicolas Cage, cheesy? No!)., but it is Cage's presence that keeps the film from getting lost in the shuffle that is the film's CGI cloud of a finale. I feel that had the film not had the more dramatic elements of its first half, the film could have possibly fared far worse than what we get here. In my opinion, PAY THE GHOST is a pretty uneven film, which takes on a different feel as it pays out. It goes from dramatic, to more of a Horror fantasy feel, over the course of its 94 minutes. As the film nears it's last act, it's attention to plot detail dwindles, in favor of exaggerated, quickly delivered dialogue. When it comes to the phrase used in the film, "Pay the Ghost" I'm still not entirely sure what it means. I think I have a good idea, but i'm not too sure. That's because the details are relayed to us just too franticly. I even rewound the film several times in an attempt to fully grasp it, but I just couldn't. Oh well. That pretty much sums up the latter portion of the film, you just have to go with it, and just accept that not everything here adds up.
In the end, PAY THE GHOST is essentially a film that attempts to be a dramatic supernatural Horror, however, the two components never really balance themselves out. As I said, the initial half of the film is more dramatic, while the remaining half takes a drastic turn into fantasy, which sort of offsets the film's previous, somewhat serious tone. This is not to say that neither side of the film is better than the other, but I feel that most will come away from PAY THE GHOST preferring one over the other. Personally, I preferred the dramatic side, because I felt that once the film got into its more supernatural element, it started to resemble other films much too closely. You especially get the MAMA vibe from it, all the way down to the film's ominous back story. Overall, PAY THE GHOST is an ok film, that has some enjoyment due to it's mystery and, as I mentioned, the presence of Nicolas Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies.
IMPRESSION OF THE FILM
I guess to sum up my feelings about PAY THE GHOST, I could say, while I didn't necessarily hate it, I did feel that it started off strong, only to get weaker as it moved along. It's an ok film, but it feels more like a combination of films rather a singular Horror film. There are countless others like it, and had Nicolas Cage not starred, PAY THE GHOST would probably be one much more easily forgotten.