Ghosts of Empire Prairie (2015) – By Misty Layne

Blake Eckard’s “Ghosts of Empire Prairie” straddles the line between intense, interesting character drama and overdone tropes and melodrama. It’s hard to pick just one or the other – it’s absolutely a character drama but at the same time everything in the film I’ve seen 800 million times. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a new story but rather an old story told in a grittier and dirtier way.

“Ghosts is vaguely based on fact. It is about rancid memory, and how the past informs the present. It’s a reveal of the skeletons in the closet that make people numb themselves with lies, booze, sex and violence.”

Yep, that about covers it, except it’s really mostly booze and sex, with the main priority being sex. Our story starts with Lonnie (Ryan Harper Gray). Lonnie ran away from his small, dead end town a long, long time ago and hasn’t been home since. But then he hears from his brother that their father isn’t exactly doing that great (he’s going blind) and his brother, Ted (Frank Mosley), asks him to come back for awhile. Thus starts our great adventure of Lonnie, the man child who gets a kick out of hurting people though he’s not entirely sure why; who fucks anything that moves (including his ex-stepmother who sexually abused him as a pre-teen/teen, but he was into it so, like, it’s all good); and apparently drinks 24/7. Lonnie is swell. Ted is the complete opposite of Lonnie, shy and quiet, but it turns out he was abused as a child by his father’s best friend – who also abused Lonnie. Then there’s Dawn (Arianne Martin), the barmaid, who goes from casually hanging out and fucking Lonnie, to living with Lonnie and Ted in practically no time at all. And of course I can’t leave out the father, Burl (Jon Jost), who frankly is damn hilarious. I probably shouldn’t say that given that he’s an alcoholic who’s going blind but the man is funny. Mix ’em all together and what do you get? THAT movie – yeah, you know the one. Melodrama – check. Man Child – check. Twisty sexual desires – check. Gritty scenery – check. Overdrinking (becauseĀ  in movies when you live in a small town that’s practically all you do) – check. So…kind of like a Lifetime movie on crack.

The acting, however, was top notch. Ryan Harper Gray was brilliant as Lonnie (minus an annoying habit of running his hand over his beard, which was quite distracting). But I hated Lonnie with a fiery passion so major props to you, Ryan. I definitely want to see more work from you. I just wanted to give poor Ted a hug for having to put up with his asshole brother. But Ryan and Frank’s dynamic was really good. Jon Jost as the father was just brilliant – hilarious yet scary at the same time and with more than just a little touch of crazy. The acting definitely did not go wrong.

There were sound issues though, where the background noises (in particular, birds chirping) were so loud, it was difficult to hear the dialogue at times. I was also confused as to why the movie turned black and white for several minutes and then went back to color. If it was an artistic move, it had absolutely no bearing on the movie, unfortunately.

While I hated Lonnie with a fiery passion, I don’t hate “Ghosts of Empire Prairie” with a fiery passion. I just think it needs some work. I think people are more complicated than the forever standard tropes of “Man Child” or “Alcoholic Brute of a Father” or “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and so on and so forth. Mix it up. Explore. The whole look of this film was “gritty”so make the thing gritty. Because a whole lotta sex doesn’t equal gritty. So, good ideas mixed in there but not the best presentation. This is only Eckard’s 5th film, however, so he definitely has room to grow. Wanna learn more? Check out the film’s IMDB page or “like” them on Facebook!