Spiritual Awakenings

Eric Bress is the writer-director who made his feature debut 16 years ago with The Butterfly Effect, a mind-bending tale of cause and effect starring Ashton Kutcher. After penning a sequel and a remake in the Final Destination franchise, he’s now back behind the camera with Ghosts of War. The setting is World War II, with a group of soldiers ordered to hole up in a plush French chateau close to Strasbourg that was once occupied by the Nazi high command.

As the title suggests, there are phantoms on the loose; young soldier Chris (Brenton Thwaites) awakens at the very beginning to glimpse what he thinks is a ghoul. Is it in his mind? Is he haunted by the horrifying things he’s seen? The roomy estate where they camp out is seemingly also occupied by the tormented spirits of the family that once lived there. Bress let’s us ponder all this for a while, with a story that drops a big twist late on – liable to remind you of The Sixth Sense or, more aptly, Jacob’s Ladder.

While it might seem venturing towards spoiler territory to reveal this, Ghosts of War is one of those films that turns on a revelation that will force you to entirely revisit what’s gone before it. Is it a story about post-traumatic stress disorder? Nothing is as it seems, and the anachronisms that fall into the film’s first two-thirds are all part of Bress’ masterplan as he toys with melding historical action with the supernatural, following on from such films as Outpost and Overlord.

Certainly, the final third – spinning audiences in another direction – is not without interest, though whether you’ll have made it that far is another matter. There is room for Billy Zane to pop up, more than once, and Thwaites – who featured in Maleficent and the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean movie – carries just the right amount of singed innocence in his performance. Ghosts of War doesn’t quite have what it takes to rank alongside classic suspense movies, but its brims with cinematic tricks-of-the-eye in its desire to entertain.

Ghosts of War is available to stream from 17 July. For more details, click here.

James Mottram