What are you afraid of?

Ghosts aren’t scary. They haven’t been for quite some time. Ghost stories, or at least stories with ghosts in them, are a different thing entirely. In the hands of a capable director, one who truly understands horror, we could be left terrified all the same. And this film really “gets” horror.

This film distinguishes itself from other films in the genre by actually trying. There’s no found footage, there are lavish set pieces, and the jump scares are kept to a minimum. It’ truly refreshing to see a film put so much effort into scaring the audience and, when preceded by trailers for the newest Paranormal Activity, I realized just how lucky we are to have Guillermo del Toro.

What really makes this film work is the sheer scope of it all. Whether its the intricate costumes, the haunting set pieces, or the tremendous leads, I was blown away by just how grand the spectacle was. Factor in, too, del Toro’s keen direction and cinematography, and the film truly is a sight to behold. The focus, framing, and color all contributed to the majesty and the horror.

The characters in the film are, unlike those from other popular horror films out there, actually characters. They have real motivations and real beliefs and real personalities. Each one is believable and understandable. Save for one superfluous plot point at the end of the second act, nothing felt out of place with these characters and it was wonderful to see characters act in a way that actually makes sense.

The overall story was very good, but not quite what you’d expect by watching the trailer. The film tells you within the first five minutes just what the its about, but it’s easy to forget once you get sucked into the spectacle. But make no mistake, it’s horrifying all the same.

In order to expound upon the theme of the film, however, I will need to go into some mild spoilers. I won’t be divulging any plot points that couldn’t be deduced in the first act of the film, but they are spoilers all the same. So be warned.

The film truly understands horror. It knows that ghosts are not scary and that supernatural beings don’t freighted most moviegoers. But what is scary? Failure. The idea that you may never achieve your goals. False belonging. The notion that those who claim they love you are lying to you or using you. Loss. The timeless fear of losing what is dearest to you.

This is what makes the film so brilliant. Edith represents us…a person who has ambition, longing, and love, but who time and time again fails to meet her goals or her expectations. She’s haunted by the past, the ideas that the ghosts represent, not the ghosts themselves.

These ideas culminate in a superb finale that fills us with tension and terror. Its visualizes the aforementioned fears and the characters then act on these fears, compounding the horror even more. We see the worst in ourselves, the worst in others, and we realize the horrifying truth…we aren’t scared of ghosts. We’re scared of other people.


Alex Russo loves to talk about movies. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

Alex Russo

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