Ghostbusters Afterlife (2021) **** – Seen at the Cinema

This Geeks’R’Us (Junior Dept) reboot of a dying franchise is a blast. After the last leaden reinvention, this social-media infused spin brings redemption few brands can dream of. Most kid-centric films rely on a really cute kid. No need here. A brilliant screenplay does the job of bringing the kids to life, and you better believe kids can be that smart.

Drained impoverished Callie (Carrie Coon) dodges eviction by sneaking off to the prairie heartlands with her two offspring to a bleaker version of Bates Motel, owned by her unloved distant grandfather, now deceased. Pretty soon strange things happen, chess pieces move of their own volition, an overhead light points the littlest dork Phoebe (Mackenna Grace) in the right direction. Meanwhile the older nerd Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) uncovers the original Ghostbusters vehicle mouldering away in a collapsed barn. Teacher Grooperson, the kind of guy who lets his charges watch horror videos all day, fills her in on the seismic activity in the region.

It’s not long before all hell lets loose with new types of monsters, something to do with an ancient civilization and a mine filled with diabolical secrets. The action scenes are great fun but what holds it all together, as in the original, are the characters, and in particular the cynical social-media-savvy Podcast (Logan Kim) with a wry comment on every event, the kind of kid who enters what looks like a haunted house with relish.

If Ghostbusters (2016) was a gender reversal, this is a generational reversal, with the adults in general flopping around, Callie on an alcoholic spectrum (she’d be drunker if she could afford it), Grooperson capable of boring a date into insensibility. The kids take charge and not only save the day but save the brand. Podcast looks good for a few sequels to come. The scene where this oddball realises he has made a friend in Phoebe in pure acting gold.

Phoebe is saddled with the exposition, Podcast given the snappy one-liners. We’ve seen a Phoebe before but never a Podcast. Sappy Trevor, in love with waitress Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), brings more zing as the driver of the recharged Ghost-mobile. But this is the kind of film where all the parts fit, where something that seemed like a distraction turns out to be anything but.

Setting it in the middle of nowhere is a masterstroke, with fields and mountains aplenty for ghosts and ghosthunters alike to roam, and a town small enough that even the smallest ghost is going to make a big impact.

Four-time Oscar nominee Jason Reitman (The Front Runner, 2018) brings home a sequel so fresh it feels like a stand-alone. He co-wrote the screenplay with Gil Kenan (Poltergeist, 2015). Amazingly, this is Logan Kim’s movie debut. Much as he steals the show, Mackenna Grace (Malignant, 2021) delivers an excellent portrait of an outsider who grows into herself. Celeste O’Connor (Freaky, 2020) and Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, 2106-2022) create a believable juvenile not-yet romance. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018) is better for dropping the cuteness and Carrie Coon (The Nest, 2020), drained by life of all life, in a different movie universe would have had a movie all of her own.  

Not so much afterlife as reborn.

The Vengeance of She (1968) ***

Sequels boomed in the 1960s mainly thanks to multiple spy spin-offs in the James Bond/Matt Helm/Derek Flint vein but for every From Russia with Love (1963) and In Like Flint (1967) there was a more tepid entry like Return of the Seven (1966). One of the prerequisites of the series business was that the original star reappeared. But Ursula Andress who played the title character in Hammer’s She (1966) declined to reprise the role.

John Richardson did return from the first picture but in a different role, as the immortal Killikrates within the lost city of Zuma. So Hammer brought in Andress lookalike statuesque Czech blonde Olinka Berova (The 25th Hour, 1967), even emulating the Swiss star’s famous entrance in Dr No (1962), although instead of coming out of the sea Berova is going in and substituting the bikini with bra and panties, but the effect is much the same.

Story, set in the 1960s, has supposed Scandinavian Carol (Berova) mysteriously drawn south against her will driven by voices in her head conjuring up the name Ayesha. We first encounter her walking down a mountain road in high heels only to be chased through the woods by a truck driver. It transpires she has unusual powers, or someone protecting her has, for the lorry brake slips and the truck crushes the driver. Next means of transport is a yacht owned by dodgy drunken businessman George (Colin Blakely) and before you know it she is in Algeria, assisted by Kassim (Andre Morrell) who attempts to forestall those trying to control her mind, but to no avail.

Philip (Edward Judd), whose character is effectively “handsome guy from the yacht,” follows as she continues south and eventually the pair reach Kuma, where she is acclaimed as Ayesha aka She. Kallikrates’ immortality depends upon her with some urgency crossing through the cold flames of the sacred fire. There’s a sub-plot involving high priest Men-hari (Derek Godfrey) promised immortality for returning Ayesha to Kuma and further intrigue that comes a little too late to help proceedings. You can probably guess the rest.

There’s no “vengeance” that I can see and certainly no whip-cracking as suggested in the poster. Berova, while attractive enough, lacks the screen magnetism of Andress and the mystery of who Carol is and where she’s headed is no substitute for either pace or tension and Berova isn’t a good enough actress to convey the fear she must be experiencing. The  script could have done without weighting down the Kuma high priests with lengthy exposition explaining the whys and wherefores. Neither a patch on the original nor the expected star-making turn for Berova, this is strictly Saturday afternoon matinee fare and the slinky actress, despite her best sex-kitten efforts, cannot compensate.

Director Cliff Owen (A Man Could Get Killed, 1966) assembles a strong supporting cast, headed by Edward Judd (First Men in the Moon,1964) and Colin Blakely (a future Dr Watson in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970). You can also spot Andre Morrell (Dark of the Sun, 1968),  George Sewell (who later enjoyed a long-running role in British television series Special Branch, 1969-1974) and television regular Jill Melford.  

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