Around four centuries ago, there was a terrible event in the region that was to become New York City as we know it today, but can something like that echo down into the future to affect, say, the English professor Mike Lawford (Nicolas Cage) and his family? He’s about to find out, as tonight is Halloween and he is planning to spend it with his seven-year-old son Charlie (Jack Fulton) who wants to carve a pumpkin with him, then go out into the carnival atmosphere of the city streets dressed as a pirate. However, Mike is a busy man and has let down his son before, as his wife Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies) is all too aware, so is prepared for a disappointment even if Charlie is not, but nothing will prepare them for the events of this evening…
By the point Cage was making movies like this, the temptation was to also be prepared: for laughter, as his mannerisms and eccentricity had become so legendary that he had become a figure of fun for countless movie fans across the globe. What they wanted from him was a performance of sheer ludicrousness, and if they didn’t get it they would feel let down, leaving even well-received roles like Joe which featured no silliness whatsoever overlooked if it meant Cage wasn’t going to bug out his eyes and start shouting his dialogue like a crazy person. With Pay the Ghost, it was neither the worst of his twenty-first century efforts nor the best of them, merely a derivative horror flick allowing him to have his child abducted for the umpteenth time in his career.
Fair enough, you could spend the ninety minutes ticking off the influences, a little Poltergeist here, a tad Don’t Look Now there, perhaps a more recent dash of The Woman in Black for good measure, but the fact remained for most audiences watching a Nicolas Cage flick they weren’t seeking anything too taxing, more something to kill a bit of time without too much to trouble the thoughts. Actually, it came across as if the star was in the same state of mind as he wandered around the movie sporting the same dumbfounded expression, seeming like he couldn’t quite believe he was in this either, he had an Oscar for heaven’s sake, but while he was here we could at least note occasional lunacies as how Cage would teach a university English class.
For the record, he reads out poetry overenthusiastically and throws in the odd swear word, because he’s edgy and cool that way. Anyway, the main storyline saw Mike distraught for most of it since when he was out celebrating Halloween he managed to lose Charlie, even though the kid was standing right next to him as he bought ice cream. We have already twigged there was something not right when he kept seeing scary figures out of his window at night and spotted vultures crouching on rooftops, but once Mike has spent a couple of minutes of panicky searching, we jump forward to one year later and he is living alone with one of those evidence displays on his wall with lots of notes and photos linked with bits of string, a sure sign he was dedicated to recovering his son.
Why he didn’t just keep his notes on his computer is unmentioned, but he must have seen the evidence wall thing in movies and TV and thought it was how a search was conducted. The cops are no help, they’ve done their best but the trail is cold, yet with Halloween coming up again Mike catches sight of Charlie on a passing bus and is filled with renewed hope. This was notably skimpy on the effects until they were truly necessary, a strong indication of a lower budgeted effort, therefore a lot of Cage plodding around dolefully was filling up the rest of the plot while we put two and two together to work out there was a curse in play that had claimed Charlie, leaving his dad to make like a parental Orpheus and venture into the underworld. In here somewhere was the modern male, much-maligned, making up for his perceived uselessness in society and making good, indicative of the era it was made, and it wasn’t too painful as far as that went but remained nobody’s first choice of horror movie when the competition was in many cases more impressive. Music by Joseph LoDuca.
[Lionsgate's Blu-ray has a behind the scenes featurette as an extra.]
German director who deals in sometimes controversial subject matter. His first film was 1981's intense drug drama Christiane F , which brought him international notoriety; his next feature was the equally controversial Last Exit to Brooklyn. The erotic thriller Body of Evidence (with Madonna) was one of 1993's most derided films and most of Edel's other work has been in TV, including episodes of Twin Peaks, Oz, Tales from the Crypt and Homicide. Also directed the family hit The Little Vampire, true crime story The Baader Meinhof Complex, rap turkey Time You Change and Nicolas Cage horror Pay the Ghost.