The Plot: Callie (Carrie Coon) arrives in a dusty Oklahoma town, with her teenage children Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) in tow. She’s staying for a while to tidy up the affairs of her late, estranged father. While rooting around the house, Phoebe comes across some unusual equipment and a potential doomsday scenario. With the help of local horror-movie-loving teacher Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd), she discovers that the equipment relates to her grandfather’s ghostbusting days. It’s time to charge up the proton packs and intercept ghostly sightings in the town, all centred on the return of a familiar entity…
The Verdict: It’s a pity that Ghostbusters: Afterlife missed its summer release slot (twice), as it’s a film that has a nostalgic, summery air to it. It’s somewhat muted in the pre-Thanksgiving dead midwinter, but there are still plenty of dead things at work here to resurrect and play around with. Resurrection and the afterlife are recurring themes at work in this cinematic mish-mash of the new and the old. It recalls the 1984 original, which was of course a near-perfect blend of horror and comedy which played to the strengths of its cast and a cracking script that didn’t take itself too seriously. The ghost of that film is very much in the mind of Jason Reitman, dusting down and picking up the proton pack that his father Ivan left behind in 1989 with Ghostbusters II. There was of course the female-fronted 2016 Ghostbusters, which was actually half-decent but has been mostly swept under the carpet. Afterlife falls somewhere in between those other Ghostbusters films on the quality scale.
It’s telling that the script by Jason Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Monster House’s Gil Kenan comes with a direct ‘based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters’ credit. Perhaps wary of experimenting too much with a 37-year-old franchise, Reitman has gone backwards in order to go forwards with the franchise. The new story is pleasant enough, following two awkward teenagers trying to fit into a nowheresville town and discovering a secret legacy left behind by their grandfather. The original’s classic elements (the proton packs, Ecto-1, a hilarious cameo from a returning confection and an uncredited appearance from a well-known actress as the antagonist) are then bolted onto the new story in the hope that a legacy effect will work its magic. In some respects it does. It’s a nostalgic joy to watch the original gang get back together again after so long, with the film dedicated to Harold Ramis who sadly departed our spiritual plane. But that fuzzy feeling also has the effect of crossing the streams.
Part of Afterlife’s narrative and thematic problem is that it relies quite heavily on the original film to justify its existence. Nostalgia will only get the filmmakers so far in telling their story. The original film is virtually propping Afterlife up and just about keeping it afloat. Rather than, say, coming up with a new story that acknowledges the original and then moves in its own individual direction. That would be asking too much of Reitman and his team, right? They seem content to just ride the wave of nostalgia and go with it, right through to the two end credits scenes (which are worth staying for). The effect of this is that one story conveniently crashes into the other. What should be a legacy passing of the proton pack to the next generation comes across as too earnest and more than a bit soppy in its intentions. Why watch the new story, a lukewarm re-heat of the original, when the audience really just wants to see Bill Murray wisecracking as Peter Venkman once again?
So, Ghostbusters: Afterlife has its marshmallow-layered cake and proceeds to eat it like Slimer. The two storylines just about work together to co-exist and that’s fine for a nostalgic blast for the audience. It’s hard to shake off the feeling though that Afterlife is a missed opportunity to do something both familiar and excitingly new. Maybe this is the problem with the Ghostbusters franchise. The original was lightning-in-a-bottle, much-imitated but not even closely equalled by its subsequent films including this new one. It’s hard to recapture that magic, even with the brief hints of it here. Just a middling sequel that promises a lot and doesn’t quite deliver then, rather than something special for a new generation of ghostbusting kids to cherish.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: Crosses the streams
Directed by Jason Reitman.
Starring McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson.