With the exception of the 2016 failed reboot, the Ghostbusters franchise is like a family business. Many of the original cast members are still involved and Ivan Reitman, who directed the 1983 original and its sequel passed the mantle down to his son, Jason (while still staying on as the film’s producer) for the third movie. And Ghostbusters: Afterlife is not only filled with Easter eggs and callbacks to the first two films, but it is also a loving tribute to Harold Ramis (who starred and wrote the first two screenplays alongside Dan Aykroyd) and passed away in 2014. Even one of the themes of this new outing is about family.
It is said (okay, Wikipedia says…) that Ghostbusters was largely inspired by Dan Akyroyd’s fascination with ghosts, which is not surprising since his father literally wrote the book on them (A History of Ghosts), his grandfather tried to contact ghosts through the radio and his great-grandfather was a spiritualist. Oh, and his mother has said that she has seen ghosts too. (This disturbing note is also a family legacy of sorts.)
Ghostbusters was a funny yet terrifying-at-times movie that moved beyond spirits and into controversial themes like demon possession. Afterlife is a more family-friendly film … that also contains controversial themes like demon possession and it is these latter parts where these films fail. Fortunately, there is still a lot of fun to be had. Much of that has to do with the chemistry of the main stars which worked well then and does so today.
While staying true to the narrative, Afterlife begins with a very different tone than the first two films a fresh new cast. There hasn’t been a ghost sighting in over 30 years since the New York City events. The Ghostbusters closed up shop many years ago and the world has mostly forgotten about this quartet. But a lot has happened since Ghostbusters 2. Dr. Spengler (Ramis) left his family and moved to an old farm in Summerville, Oklahoma. After suffering from a heart attack, his daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two children Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) inherit his old rundown shack of a home. The grandkids never knew their grandfather (nor his background as a Ghostbuster), his daughter says she barely knew him and the local townspeople in Summerville say that he was odd (but a good customer at a local hardware store).
Moving out to the middle of nowhere is difficult for the kids who are both awkward in different ways. Trevor is more a typical teen who crushes on older teen Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Connor) on the first day in town and Phoebe is a spitting image of her grandfather who would rather go to summer school and learn than goof off and have fun. She awkwardly shares a joke with a boy who calls himself Podcast (because he’s a podcaster focusing on the paranormal) and instantly makes a friend. Her teacher, Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd) is a scientist who lets his class watch horror movies so he can figure out why the town has been having so many earthquakes. They hit it off well too.
Soon though, Trevor and Phoebe start to discover strange things in and around their new home – like, items in the house moving by themselves, finding a ghost trap and making discoveries at an abandoned mine. Eventually, it becomes clear that they are all connected and they kids learn the truth about their grandfather. And then all hell breaks loose.
The first three-fourths of Afterlife move at a snail’s pace, but it doesn’t really matter. At this point, the film seems very similar to Stranger Things or The Goonies and is quite enjoyable. There is a new ghost who looks similar to the old Slimer, but is called Muncher. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is back too, but in bite-size pieces. But despite a few jump scares and familiar music treatment, this doesn’t “feel” like a Ghostbusters movie. Sometimes the story over-explains things and other times doesn’t explain enough. If you haven’t seen the originals, you’ll be lost.
The tone is different too. For most of the film some paranormal activity does happen, but for the most part, nobody seems fazed by this. Phoebe says that she feels things on the inside, so I guess that explains why she doesn’t react on the outside. Trevor on the other hand, tends to freak out initially and then calms down as if nothing has happened. Be even when there is concrete evidence that something is amiss here, this sleepy little town couldn’t care less.
Eventually, though this slow burn story starts to speed up. During the last fourth of the movie, the budget must have started to run out because suddenly a bunch of new characters, old characters and plot points are introduced. Things get overly complicated and weird. What started out as a fresh new story starts to feel like a retread.
Yes, three of the four original Ghostbusters arrive in time to help save the day as extended cameos, but this is where the film is most disappointing. Doctors Stantz, Zeddemore and Venkman (Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray) aren’t given a lot to do and most of their lines are just repeated from the first two films. They seem awkward and out of place. These scenes could have been so much better, but gosh, it is still so good to see them.
If the orignal freaked you out as a kid, expect that this new one will do the same for your kids. As a Christian, I’m not too thrilled with the whole demon possession angle of these films and honestly, it’s unnecessary. The story has a number of plot holes too. For instance, how in the world is Paul Rudd the only shopper in the town’s Wal-Mart store?
So, while could have been a better movie, it is still a very entertaining one and even pulls on the heartstrings a little if you let it. And if you’re a hardcore fan, you’re going to love it. Be sure to stay to the end as there are two bonus scenes during the credits. (Main Image: Columbia Pictures)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.