MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Pay The Ghost’ Finds Nic Cage In Peak Form


Film: Pay The Ghost
Starring: Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Uli Edel

Twenty-six years after first exploring the world of horror with Vampire’s Kiss, Nicolas Cage has returned to battle a child-stealing witch in Uli Edel’s Pay The Ghost.

On the eve of Halloween in New York City, Mike Lawford (Nicolas Cage) makes a deal with his wife to take their young son, Charlie, to a nearby street fair celebrating All Hollow’s Eve. The event is busy and filled with all people from all walks of life, each decked out in their very best costume. Lawford and his son approach a local ice cream vendor, and when the time comes to exchange cash for goods Mike let’s go of his only son’s hand for a brief moment. Not more than ten seconds pass, but it’s more than enough time for Charlie to vanish into thin air. Cops are called, an investigation ensues, time passes, but Charlie never returns home. In fact, he’s never seen again.

A year later, Charlie is still missing and Mike finds himself haunted by eerie images he cannot explain. “Pay the ghost,” a phrase Charlie uttered moments before he disappeared, plays on a loop in Mike’s head. He’s losing it. Everywhere he looks he sees his son, but anytime he tries to chase after him there is never anyone to be found. All hope seems lost until a series of conversations leads Mike to unravel the mystery of his son’s disappearance. The explanation is almost too crazy to believe, and it requires Mike to visit the land of the dead, but it’s the only chance he has at seeing his beloved son again.

I would be lying if I told you that we have never seen a movie like Pay The Ghost before. The film borrows heavily from films spanning the last half-century of horror, perhaps most obviously from the recent Insidious franchise, but thanks to a commanding performance from Cage there is something here I dare say must be seen. Cage and his sometimes erratic approach to acting fits perfectly with the turmoil Mike is experiencing, which in turn helps ground the otherwise otherworldly story with a real sense of heart. I’m not saying you will be moved to tears, but Cage gives it his all throughout. The same can be said for the main supporting players, highlighted most notably by Sarah Wayne Callies.

The film’s only real shortcoming is its scares, which come and go in a very hit-or-miss fashion. Some scares are well designed moments of terror that work well within the context of the story, but others feel as if they were added at the last minute as a lame attempt to inject unnecessary jump scares into what would otherwise be a story that is far more thriller than horror. I don’t know if that is actually the reason things worked out the way they did, but regardless it’s a decision that ultimately cheapens the entire experience.

Some will no doubt find Pay The Ghost a bit too derivative to praise, but there is plenty for genre fans to love, including the opportunity to see Nicolas Cage at his absolute best. This is not a movie that will go down in history as a defining moment for horror, but it does prove the veteran screen actor still has talent that goes far beyond the demands of the roles he’s being offered today. It would be easy for Cage to walk through a movie like this without adding any flare to his delivery, but that has never been the way he likes to work. Cage goes all in from scene one, and despite visual and narrative shortcomings, he manages to hold your attention until the credits roll.


James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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