Ginger Nuts of Horror
Pay the Ghost is an intriguing combination of one part thriller with grief stricken parents searching for a missing child and one part mysterious ghost story. Uli Edel directs this screenplay written by Dan Kay and based on a novella by Tim Lebbon, an exceptional author.
The movie begins with a short scene in a historical setting where three children are hiding in an old cellar beneath slatted floorboards. They can hear a woman screaming above and hear the sounds of men crashing about. One of the children calls out “Mother!” and the last thing we see is the floor being smashed in and the children screaming. This scene will become important later as the mystery ghost story unfolds.
Shift to the present and we are introduced to little Charlie Lawford played by Jack Fulton and his mom, Kristen, played by Walking Dead fame Sarah Wayne Callies. Charlie is having nightmares and claims to be seeing things outside his window, a human-like figure of some sort. Charlie climbs in bed with mom to await daddy’s arrival. Nicolas Cage plays the dad, Mike Lawford who is a university literary professor waiting to hear whether he is going to finally receive tenure or not. The story takes off the following night, Halloween, when Dad takes Charlie to a Halloween carnival. While literally holding Charlie’s hand and buying ice cream Charlie, out of the blue, asks Mike, “Dad, can we pay the ghost?” Dad pays for the ice cream, grabs the cone and turns to give it to Charlie and he is gone. Dad searches everywhere frantically but to no avail. After speaking to an officer he goes and gets his wife and they both hunt the carnival over, still to no avail. A missing person’s report is filed and they are left hoping that Charlie will be found quickly.
Shift forward 1 year. Mike and Kristen’s marriage is in shambles and Charlie is still missing. Kristen blames Mike entirely for Charlie’s disappearance and her animosity has divided them and put a stake in their relationship’s heart. Mike is an empty man, unable to live or teach with any spark of vitality. It’s a few days before Halloween and Mike starts to see things and suspects that somehow Charlie is reaching out to him in some supernatural way. Kristen won’t entertain his notions at all. Different clues lead him to research missing children reports in the area for the last several years. He finds a pattern that revolves around Halloween and leads him further down the rabbit hole to figure out Charlie’s last perplexing words. What does it mean to “Pay the Ghost”? I found the story engaging and it develops and reveals itself in a manner that pulls you along and maintains your interest and keeps you invested in the characters. Nicolas Cage, though having had a long run of bad acting performances, actually does a solid job here. It’s not Matchstick Men or 8mm level but it is damn good nonetheless. He captures the grief and angst and utter frustration and despair of a father who was unable to protect his son and continues to hunt relentlessly for an answer. Sarah Callies perfectly plays the overcome and distraught mother with a backbone of anger that will not be assuaged until circumstances develop such that she cannot refute her own experiences which convince her that something supernatural is afoot. Together Mike and Kristen commit to finding their son. Through an underground homeless people “city”, use of a medium, and some incredible phenomena they refuse to give up and in the process they just might save their marriage as well.
This movie is isn’t perfect but it is very satisfying all around and resolves itself in a way that makes sense and doesn’t undermine the supernatural aspects of the story. There is a cheesy last second scare moment during the credits, which I absolutely hate in movies, but I was willing to overlook it because the rest was so entertaining. If you like ghost stories, check it out.