31st Oct. 1679, the first settlement of New York – Suspected of witchcraft, an Irish widow is forced to watch the burning of her three children at the stake.
Swearing vengeance before she too is consumed by the flames, the witch vows to return every Halloween to reap the souls of three children from the living world in revenge.
31st Oct. 2015, New York City – A young child is haunted by visions of demonic figures in the days leading up to the Halloween carnival and his disappearing. As his father unravels the link between unsolved cases of missing kids, time is running out for the young souls who chose not to pay the ghost as the portal closes and they are lost to the spiritual world for ever.
Based on a reworking on Tim Lebbon’s short story, what is at best the nucleus of a great idea soon suffers from being in the wrong place at the wrong time; an ancient Celtic myth stalking the streets of a modern day metropolis jars continuously… The Devil’s Advocate this is not.
Claiming inspiration from classic British horror and the new wave of cinematic demons (Bughuul, the man with fire on his face & Bathsheba), it’s hard to rate an evil presence when it hardly reveals itself save for two second-long glimpses and a protracted thirty second final showdown.
The modern phenomena for intelligent horrors anchored in realities where the protagonists have some survival smarts has proved a double edged sword, highlighting the dim wittedness of your average stab at the genre.
Now, I do not have children but if I did, the mere second he/she/it produces the one-two punch of sensing a presence in their bedroom and producing a nightmarish scribble, I’m fleeing the house and it’s getting thoroughly checked out in a secure facility. And in that vein, Pay The Ghost should have been nipped in the bud 3m 30secs in.
The director and producers have talked a good game with their stock superlatives and classics name-checking but save a nod to Danny wheeling around the Overlook Hotel, any real sense of horror, mild scares or even substance are noticeable in their absence as Nic Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies’ parents fall into a trapdoor (in a cabin no less) of clichés and rip-offs. Halloween, bogey men, cabins, witches, a child alone and scared on the other side are all present but at least there’s no sign… Hold on, wait a minute, there they are; a sceptical police detective and a terrified psychic. Full house!
Unsurprisingly, Pay The Ghost is a low-key affair to the last with the big evil discovered, confronted and vanquished in record breaking time; blink and you’ll miss it but you certainly won’t miss out.
In a different setting with a different tone, this idea could thrive but here everything is just a little bit off. The kid isn’t creepy, the ghost isn’t nightmare enduring, frights don’t land and even the superimposed city feels at odds with the plot (shooting actually took place in Montreal). Possibly, if the tension, the scares and Nic Cage were cranked up to crazy then this film would have an identity but as it is, I’m surprised anybody received payment for this pale affair, let alone the ghost.