“Ghosts of the Void” is a lean, efficient thriller that places a couple close to marital collapse in a claustrophobic pressure cooker.
Ghosts of the Void from writer-director Jason Miller (in his directorial debut) is a slow burn that takes its time, gently introducing its two central characters.
A homeless couple, Jen and Tyler, make a midnight flight to escape debt collection agencies and arrive at a park to rest and catch a breath. Over the course of the evening, everything changes for them both.
Through flashbacks, we see they had a happy and stable home life, with Tyler achieving success as a writer and Jen playing a supporting role.
Now, however, Tyler (Michael Reagan, Lovecraft Country) is in the midst of a block. His writing has stalled, and his drinking has increased, which in turn is killing his creativity. Tyler cannot communicate his feelings, possibly through a level of guilt that he is responsible for their situation.
There is a building animosity from Jen (an excellent performance from Tedra Millan, who made a splash in the stellar short from Lena Hudson, Daddy’s Girl), who conveys this low-level burn in everything she says.
She’s strung out through a lack of sleep…. and from the burden of knowing she has weighty, difficult decisions to make. She is not blameless, though. It is suggested her approach to life has contributed to their current plight.
Everything is working against the couple: money, gas, themselves. Jen suggests they spend the night in the car, as they only have $40 to their name.
The darker aspects of Ghosts of the Void develop slowly, creeping up on you as the viewer.
Something appears to have shaken the car while the couple sleeps, rousing Jen from her dream. Did it really happen, or is her exhausted mind playing tricks on her? Her mind races.
Tyler doesn’t hear anything but is annoyed that he is now awake. His behavior is now exposed as someone who is in the throes of an addiction. There is nothing else that they can see.
Tyler desires to drink without having to conceal it. In his efforts to do so, he happens upon a homeless camp in the woodland near where they are parked. It’s genuinely unnerving, with the tight camera and that sparse soundtrack.
In some of the flashbacks, Jen enables Tyler’s behavior by constant reassurance (unknowingly?) while he announces he’s going to write at a local coffee shop (in alcoholic circles, this turn of phrase is similar to “walking the dog” in AA speak).
The flashbacks also allude that Jen is possibly to blame (rightfully or not) for not handling or speaking with creditors over the unpaid bills, although it is never completely revealed.
Director Jason Miller doesn’t play favorites and shows that both parties are responsible for the couple’s worsening situation.
The line continues to blur between what is real and imagined. Jen takes sleeping pills and awakes with the radio playing a message directly to her about getting herself together and having the strength to do something about the situation she is in. It feels like she knows what she must do, but she lacks the strength to do it because she is afraid of the fallout that may occur when she leaves Tyler.
Then she notices the clamped tire, a visual metaphor for her life: if something can go wrong, it will.
There are scenes in Ghosts of the Void that are breathtaking as we follow Jen in pitch black into the woods, her breath becoming our breaths.
You see absolutely nothing, and it’s a thrilling piece as she is having a major panic attack and cannot ground herself until she gets herself back in the car and starts her grounding process.
It is devastating to watch. The depiction of certain conditions is brilliantly handled.
Ghosts is another prime example of top-class storytelling, with those involved playing at the top of their game. This psychological horror film draws you in as you become more and more engaged with Jen and Tyler and the hopelessness of their situation.
Escaping mounting debts and leaving their home with everything they own at that point may not sound like the basis for a gripping thriller, but that is just the base layer. The real horror is how their relationship is portrayed and what decisions someone must make for them to ensure their survival.
You are never sure if what is being shown on screen is real or the figment of Jen’s imagination as it bleeds together and ultimately comes together for the final frames, which give it the emotional payoff required.
Every act shown is pushing us towards that final moment, and when it does land, it takes you by surprise at how deftly it’s handled.
It’s just so steady and controlled that I think that further viewings will enrich that initial experience. The accompanying musical score is understated and used sparingly. It unsettles using certain modes to convey mood. In the same way, it’s tightly filmed with the main twosome doing a lot of work while sitting in the car.
It’s a great plot device as it is their lifeline and their final place of safety, and the fact that they manage to squeeze so much from what is a constrained setting is amazing.
Millan and Reagan do a stellar job portraying a couple trapped in a decaying relationship. The way they act with each other is natural, from sullen moments to explosive arguments.
What a film.