Screenwriter Dan Kay adapts the story from Bram Stoker Award Winning author Tim Lebbon, which director Uli Edel creates a masterful job presenting a Halloween spooky tale and involving a parent’s worst fear, the abduction of their child. The fear alone extends and affects so many in real lives, that conjurer more on the subject often feels taboo; however in horror and psychological thriller is the boundary that must push forward to create new avenues. Therefore to achieve the embolden path, Edel has Award Winning Oscar star Nicolas Cage providing his unique and sometimes haunting tone with his A-list qualities to the film, and achieving distribution with RLJ Entertainment provides a solid audience to find it.
Cage, stars as newly named Professor Mike Lawford, who teaches an undisclosed class, but the brief lecture the hints to something of folklore literature, his striving for tenure has taken him away from his family and duties as a father. The story starts to unfold on Halloween no less, and while he misses the opportunity to treat and trick, worst of all not carving pumpkins with his only son, a great family treat, a father / son bonding moment, he arrives to take him to a street fair. One does not understand the meaning pay the ghost that his son, Charlie (Jack Fulton) states, before vanishing under the watchful eyes of CGI condor in New York, until much later in the film. The bit of necessary backstory keeps hidden from the audience for a major portion of the movie and that kernel of truth holds most everyone’s attention. Within moments of a spooky tale, the horror of losing a child accelerates quickly with many critics questioning the actions Lawford does after his son vanishes. Although, any parent momentary distracted even at mall knows the insane number action, reactions, the spiraling search, and all of it wonderfully captured on the film, aside from a pulling back overhead shot showing the growing vastness of the Halloween crowd and darkness. In addition the audio for the moment misses the mark, allowing the noise to rise over Cage’s voice drowning it out completely. Soon enough, returning home and without his son, his wife, Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies – who most horror fans recall from her break out role on hit AMC The Walking Dead series as Lori Grimes), shows the true breakdown of losing her son and the horrors racing throughout her entire body. The police enter and exit quickly, never questioning to any extend of Lawford, another misstep in the story, many police dramas and news story always question the last person to see the missing child. Perhaps it occurs but even a one-liner over it would smooth the plot a tad more, needless, the loss destroys the marriage and yet forwarding a year, Lawford begins to see and hear his son, learning of the discovery of Pay the Ghost.
Soon enough the backstory uncovers the history involving itself, and without revealing too much those who have yet to watch the movie, a summary of the issue dating back to 1679 and a the first settlement in the area, with a strange disease killing children and adults trace to one’s foreign religion. The actors Cage and Callies, give full faith performances, and never lose the hope that all parents going through the tragedy continue to hold for, as they learn of the missing children on Halloween of the past years never return in any manner. A quick note to the police and a brief slightly unsure reasoning to question another family about her missing child on the same day as Charlie, leads down a blind alley, and never truly pans out directly except near the end of the movie. Sadly, Callies, character takes a backseat in the storyline, and becomes more of a Cage vehicle then and dual lead, dashing away more sympathy and suspense. Cinematographer Sharone Meir capture wonderful chillingly angles for the entire movie, except the last final 10-minutes has a meltdown, a complete throwaway of everything capture, finish in CGI splendor and overlooking the blind man (Stephen McHattie) portray of a version Charon, in Greek mythology.
Many fans and critics slam the film for Cage’s demise in acting to take the role in the film; however, he never sends in the acting qualities presenting a solid performance and uses it to incorporate other secondary actors into an equal footing. This especially holds true to with Hannah, a colleague of his, portray expertly scholarly individual with great intrigue by Veronica Ferres. However the questions continue to mount about Cage’s off screen issues, and simply that is where need to remain, he does the quality performances on the screen, not expounding herein of this review. The movie is not without issues or flaws, the ending sequence as mention earlier was the most significant complaints, not for the storytelling but rather the overwhelm of CGI fantasy display. Meanwhile the backstory muddles the waters with confusing American and British urban legends and folklore, while never including the professor’s background into the foreground providing more of a basis of the ghostly tale. Much the story is left opened, as to plan for sequel, though highly unlikely if it occurs that Cage reprises his role.
While worst chilling ghost stories exist in the VOD and DVD markets, this one at least earns the ability to pay the ghost some tidings, weaves the folklore elements into the story with the drama to the family dynamic, and simply entertains. This film has not earned rank for inclusion with haunting tales of The Haunting (1963), The Others (2001) or What Lies Beneath (2000), but it will not sink into the abysmal wasteland of other spook fest creations.