Incident in a Ghostland
A Spoiler-Free Film Recommendation
I don’t do movie reviews, but I will be writing about horror movies. The film industry is a massive part of horror, and they’ve pushed the genre forward in many respects.
Why don’t I do movie reviews? Well, there are more than enough horror-specific movie review sites out there already. So many, in fact, that if you Google the word “horror,” you’ll get results almost exclusively for movies and TV shows.
I like movies and TV shows, and, of course, horror is my favorite genre. I tend to watch them only once, but occasionally, I’ll stumble across something I think deserves more than one viewing. Incident in a Ghostland from 2018 is one of those films — I’ve watched it several times since I first saw it on Shudder. My spouse, Tae, saw it one night and then said I should check it out. Recommendations from Tae should not be taken lightly, as she’s a horror aficionado spanning all media types. It’s so hard to say anything about this film without spoiling it.
Here’s my own spoiler-free description: Two daughters and their mother inherit an old, dusty, secluded home. Then, they meet a witch and an ogre. What follows is a journey deep into the psyche of one of the daughters as she struggles for her own life and sanity.
It’s also titled Ghostland, depending on your location. I first learned of it by the name Incident in a Ghostland, though, and that’s how I’ll always remember it. Apparently, this type of renaming for different regions happens all the time. Ever heard of Outlander? Yes, that one. Of course, you have. Did you know it was originally published in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand under the title Cross Stitch? Why? Look here.
I’m a fan of dark fairy tales, like Absentia (film), The Once and Future Witches (book), and the original Brothers Grimm stories. Many Disney movies were pulled from Brothers Grimm stories, albeit more modern retelling that gave them happy endings. Absentia pulls the story of Three Billy Goats Gruff into suburbia and blends mystery, sci-fi, and thriller aspects. You may have seen more of the director’s work if you’ve seen The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. (Shirley Jackson’s book of the same name from 1959 is a masterpiece of horror and shares almost nothing in common with the show.) The Once and Future Witches has rich world-building that blends all sorts of fairy tales and creates a magic system, unlike anything I’ve seen.
I mention these other works as a way of describing the feel of Incident in a Ghostland without spending too much time rehashing the actual film. It’s dark, it blends ideas from original fairy tales with a modern setting, and the cinematography is simultaneously gritty and beautiful.
During the filming, right around actress Taylor Hickson’s 19th birthday, she suffered a terrible injury that led to 70 stitches and permanent scarring on her face. The director set up a scene where Taylor was supposed to bang on a glass window and convinced her that it was safe. It wasn’t. The window shattered, and she fell on the broken glass. She sued the production company, and, in a separate case, the production company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safety and welfare of a worker under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.
Imagine the level of intensity it takes to shatter a thick glass window with your bare hands. Taylor is an incredible actress, and every scene she’s in is entirely believable. She fights for her life against hopeless circumstances, monsters come to life and [TAE REDACTED THIS FOR ME TO KEEP IT SPOILER-FREE!]
The story takes you from a fun car ride at the beginning into a creeping sense of something very wrong, and then it’s a roller coaster, complete with sickening drops. It’s not for the squeamish.
Trigger Warning: contains sexual violence against children.
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If you’re interested in a brief review from a film critic, try this one: [TAE REDACTED THIS LINK FOR ME TO KEEP IT SPOILER-FREE!]
“If you’re interested in watching this movie, don’t look up anything about it.” — Tae
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“If you can get past the trigger warning above, it’s so much better to go in mostly blind.” — Tae
As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, my spouse Tae reviewed and edited this to help me make it spoiler-free. If you watch it, let me know, and we’ll have a wonderful chat about all sorts of things that I can’t write without spoiling the hell out of it.
Taylor Hickson’s other, more recent, work has her starring in Motherland: Fort Salem — recently renewed for another season.
“An army of witches train to combat terrorist threats.” — from the website for the Motherland: Fort Salem.
The other actress that stars in the film, Emilia Jones, is also a master of her craft. She’s been in several projects since Incident in a Ghostland, like Netflix’s Locke & Key, where she plays Kinsey Locke. You’re missing out if you haven’t read the graphic novel series of the same name. Author Joe Hill and illustrator by Gabriel Rodríguez did a fantastic job.
There. Now you’ve got a list of recommendations from me, and I didn’t even give anything a star rating.
Originally published in my weekly newsletter Into Horror History. Subscribe at my website https://www.jahernandez.com to get these straight to your inbox.
About the author
J.A. Hernandez enjoys horror, playing with cats, and hiding indoors away from the sun. Also, books. So many books—you wouldn't believe.
He runs a weekly newsletter called Into Horror History and writes fiction.