Combustible Celluloid
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With: Thomas Hobson, Tara Perry, Phil Morris, Angela Bettis, David Arquette, Tim Blake Nelson, Joseph Ruud, David Aaron Baker, Neva Howell, Brandon Gibson, Scott Dean, Graham Gordy, Skylar Olivia Flanagan, Taylor Alden
Written by: Jordan Wayne Long, Tara Perry, Sean Anthony Davis
Directed by: Matt Glass, Jordan Wayne Long
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 106
Date: 02/03/2022

Ghosts of the Ozarks (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wall Bearers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A surprisingly fun, intriguing B movie mashup that keeps you on your toes with ghosts, a mystery, appealing characters, and social commentary, all set in the atmospheric, post-Civil War American West.

It's after the Civil War in Arkansas, and James McCune (Thomas Hobson) has received an offer to work as a doctor in a small town, Norfork, run by his uncle Matthew (Phil Morris). On the way there, he gets lost and witnesses a man being devoured by a strange red fog. Arriving in Norfork, James discovers that it's a welcoming, close-knit community, where Black men like himself are treated equally. But the townspeople also live behind a huge wall, designed to protect them from ghosts in the woods outside.

James takes a room above a bar, which is run by the blind Torb (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife Lucille (Angela Bettis). He also befriends shopkeeper Douglas (David Arquette) and forms a bond with hunter Annie (Tara Perry), and her mountainous, mute brother William (Joseph Ruud). But the longer he stays, the more James realizes that there's more to Norfork than meets the eye.

Directed by the team of Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long, and written by married couple Long and performer Tara Perry (who plays Annie), Ghosts of the Ozarks hits just the right tone and has a fitting level of low-key ingenuity; it's clever, but not too clever. It begins well, with James lost in the woods, and thanks to Hobson's humility, we instantly like him, and his likability crisply contrasts with the evil in the woods. This balance continues throughout the movie, as even the weirder characters eventually win our sympathy.

Nelson's bartender, with his wild Scandinavian accent, and his wife (Bettis, known for her many creepy characters in horror movies), for example, are introduced through a strage parlor trick, but eventually become two of the most lovable characters. The setting is no doubt part of the movie's intrigue as well, clashing traditional Western sets and props with the foreboding wall, offering both protection and entrapment, and the creepy red fog and sinister figures beyond.

Ghosts of the Ozarks is especially interesting for its suggestion of a utopia in which everyone, Black folks included, lives in harmony; there's plenty of dialogue about how the McCunes would unlikely be able to find work in the medical profession "out there." But, echoing the work of Shirley Jackson, the movie also demonstrates the cost of such peace, making for a fascinating conclusion.

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