Pascal Laugier is well-known in horror circles as pretty much the godfather of 21st-century extremism. Over 10 years on, his heady French thriller Martyrs still stands as something of a measure for just how twisted an under-the-radar genre movie can be. His latest, a second English-language offering (following 2012’s so-so The Tall Man), hits some of the same troubling depths as his most-talked-about work, but with a more high-octane edge, ditching the slow build for a one-two-three reveal that just about knocks the wind out of you.
Incident In A Ghostland begins as a bare-bones home-invasion thriller – two teenage girls and their mother are victim to a horrific (and we mean horrific) attack – but what builds out from there defies both expectation and convention at nearly every single turn. It’s nothing short of an assault on the audience; an emotionally, psychologically and philosophically charged no-holds-barred horror that burrows deep down into the nastiness of reality and the power of escapism.
And Laugier’s thirst for the extreme certainly hasn’t gone away either. Ghostland might not quite be as lingering or as patient as Martyrs, but all-in, it’s a very different kind of harrowing. While the latter found its strengths in not only the savagery of torture but what lies beyond it, this new effort spins off in a number of totally different directions, constantly pressing on the audience all the time. The opening sequence alone, with a certain candy-truck, is enough to send certain shivers down the spine, but the longer and longer Laugier lets his drama play out for, the harder and harder it is to stomach, laying waste for a total gut-punch of a third act.
When it’s messy, and it’s really messy, the brilliance of Laugier’s horror is in the details. How flesh tears; the blood, piss and bile that runs through the middle – it’s seriously horrible stuff, but where he fractures off from the usual torture-porn clones is in the emotional underpinning of the whole story. There’s a point to the suffering – the misery of the leads is not a spectacle in and of itself, it’s tension, and suspense. A ticking clock building to all-out war, and Laugier’s the best in the business at making every step hurt.
Incident In A Ghostland is a really nasty piece of work, delivering pure violent and psychological anarchy with the precision and grace of a skilled surgeon. From its visually muggy big-bads to the razor’s-edge plotting, it’s an absolute masterclass in horror that’ll leave scars for quite some time to come.
Incident In A Ghostland was screened as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.