Reviewed by Drew Ninnis
Director: Ágúst Guðmundsson
Screenplay: Ágúst Guðmundsson
Runtime: 92 minutes
Cast: Gísli Örn Garðarsson, Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir, Laddi ø Iceland
Trailer: "Are you drunk?" (warning: yes.)
Plot: Following the death of her father, Anna and her boyfriend Ingi decide to sell the house they were sharing with him. However, father Ofeig is reluctant to leave his childhood home even in death, and complicates the sale by returning to haunt the couple. The rest of the plot you can pretty much guess; excepting the scene where Ingi robs a natural history museum. That’s right – only a touch of archaeological larceny spices up this bland porridge of a film.
Review: There are some genuinely funny moments in Spooks and Spirits, the latest film by well-known (at least in Iceland) director Ágúst Guðmundsson; unfortunately, the film spends a long time getting to them. Set up as a loose interpretation of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, it sadly has none of the impeccable timing or biting wit of the play. A smash hit in Iceland, the film leaves a foreign audience with the feeling that the amusing beats of an episode of Iceland’s favorite sitcom have been stretched to feature length. All that is missing is the laugh track; sadly, every other hackneyed cliché you would expect from the scenario is present.
Anchoring the action is the performance of Gísli Örn Garðarsson as boyfriend Ingi; a truly odd choice, considering that all of the potential emotional resonance of the film lies in the relationship between the deceased father (played by allegedly legendary Icelandic entertainer Laddi, but the appellation was missing in action here) and shrill daughter Anna (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir). Instead of a funny but moving exploration of moments longed for but never had with the deceased, or the difficulties of a womanising father respecting the woman his daugher has become, we get a wacky set of antics as Ingi sets up an exorcism from a predictably handy ancient text and royally fucks it up when two pages get stuck together. On such small details do the fates hinge.
Instead, up is summoned a vengeful ex-girlfriend of Ofeig, whose sole purpose is to make the portrayal of Anna look less shrill by comparison. Because, you know, women, right? The film consistently falls into the lazy clichés and stereotyping that ostensibly made Ofeig such a bad father in the first place. The film closes not with Ofeig having learned his lesson, or the characters having grown, but simply with a successful exorcism.
Following this, none of the characters take the time to examine the horrifying metaphysical ramifications that the revelation that you can be summoned back from the dead might pertain; spending your days in the world desperately lusting for old pleasures or hungering to be avenged. No one asks what sort of God would allow this; or of what substance the soul and identity must be made of, and what remains of it though death and where it goes; or the ethical implications of summoning up a relative to live a pseudo-life against leaving them in unknowing sleep. Instead, a ghost is an obstacle to flogging off a cherished house and moving to somewhere with central heating in a better locale. Kids these days.
Several moments of the film are actually enjoyable – for example, Ingi’s quest to get the right ingredients for his exorcism, and the creativity he shows in obtaining them. But these are swamped by a morass of seen-before pratfalls and punchlines.Spooks and Spirits is as enjoyable as a ghost at the feast, minus the feast.
Rating: One and a half vials of a virgin’s menstrual blood. (Yep, an actual ingredient the conveniently to hand ancient text recommends for an exorcism.)