“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is little more than a revived IP
The scary thing about corporatized nostalgia is that sometimes it does work a bit. That is to say, it’s a little charming when in the new movie totally useless Ghostbusters: the afterlife (in theaters now), director Jason reitman strives to recreate part of his father Ivanspecial effects from the original ghost hunters. In the great swirling climax of Life after death, phantasmal beasts have the jerky quality of stop-motion or animatronics, and the spectral lights hissing around seem as fake – in a pretty way – as they did 37 years ago.
I will say that for Life after death: for a moment it elicits a sigh of melancholy memory, a reminder of the wonder of simpler times, or maybe just younger ones. This feeling, however, quickly freezes. In its mass, Life after death is almost surprisingly clear as to his mercenary goal. I have no doubt that there is a sincere intention on Reitman’s part to honor his father’s work. But otherwise, Life after death exists only to restart a dying franchise, so that a dormant product conveyor belt can get back into motion.
Of course, there had already been an attempt to do so in 2016, with a terribly confusing reboot now most (un) famous for the cultural war dust cloud it unleashed. But it was – ultimately, or maybe immediately – considered off-brand. ghost hunters. So here Reitman the Younger comes to seriously continue the real legend of four sardonic Manhattanites who clashed against slobbering, sex-thirsty ghosts and gods in a devious and offhand attempt to save the world.
However, the unmitigated archaism and ironic comments do not sufficiently fuel the furnace of intellectual property development, so a different approach had to be taken to Life after death. Now all of a sudden the world of ghost hunters is speckled with sun and Spielbergian, full of big swoop and comfy Americana. And feel! There is, as there must be, a dead parent and insane children (both adults and under). There’s the dusting off of past glory, a new seized call to adventure, and a few sprigs of silly whimsy for the little ones in the audience. It looks nothing like the old one ghost hunters. Life after death is instead staged in what Sony must imagine to be our palace of collective memory, everything that inhabits it all soft and golden.
The problem is, we are, in fact, able to remember the specific texture of old things. We remember that the first ghost hunters was the slightest bit nihilistic in his ironic detachment, just as we remember that, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not an intimate coming-of-age story set in the suburbs of Austin. So all the new pomp and new emotions the franchise has been swaddled in only serves to appeal to false memories of a few people (or an enlargement of their own cultural background) and outright lie to young viewers about what it all meant. It’s a pretty empty and devious way of structuring and selling a movie, based on lies and delusion.
As you may have heard, New York City is totally over, so Life after death packs the Subaru and moves to Summerville, Oklahoma. Population: a few people. There is a run down psychopath mansion of a house there, inherited by Carrie Coon‘s Callie, whose father, we find, was Dr. Egon Spengler (played by the late Harold Ramis in the original films, which he co-wrote). Callie has her two annoying children in tow: Trevor, her chastely horny teenage son (Finn wolfhard of Strange things, perhaps forever doomed to be the puppet of Generation X nostalgics) and Phoebe (Mckenna’s Grace). The family complains about each other as they begin to set up their new life, and then things start to tumble at night (and day).
Not too much, however. Reitman spends little time preparing the children to realize that there are ghosts in Oklahoma and that their grandfather was not some old fool who abandoned the family but a tenacious ghost hunter trying to protect the planet. In no time, the children accepted all the premises presented to them with the utmost gullibility and began to educate stupid adults (including Paul Rudd as a soft seismologist on Callie) on what needs to be done. In the process, they make a friend who is naturally called Podcast (the attractive Logan kim).
The pity is that all this uselessness moves suddenly. The action only stops for a hasty exposure or an absurd nod to ghost hunters iconography. (Why are there mischievous little Stay-Puft men everywhere? Because there was a big one in the original movie, but now people love Minions.) After a rushed battle to destroy a familiar villain and the quick and inevitable return of a few friendly faces from days gone by, the movie is over. That’s it! Life after death cleverly concludes before having had time to obtain really bored with that.