The less you know about “Ghostwritten”, the better, but it’s a smartly crafted thriller that offers plenty of surprises and a great ending.
Ghostwritten, directed and written by Thomas Matthews (Lost Holiday), is a psychological tale about a writer living on the dying embers of his first book. Jay Duplass stars as Guy Laury, a writer taking up a residency on a reclusive island to complete his next novel. He discovers a lost manuscript that seems too good to be true.
The IMDb description is purposely vague:
Man moves to an isolated island, stumbles upon a long-buried crime, unearths the truth, and comes out on the other side.
However, Ghostwritten is much more than meets the eye and definitely worth your time.
The challenge is to write a review that reveals just how special the film is without spoiling any part of the unexpected journey for you.
I had no idea what was coming until the final scenes, and it made watching this film a highly engaging and enjoyable experience that I want to maintain for other viewers.
Writer Guy is watching his life slowly crumble to pieces as his money is drained away. He’s under constant pressure, especially with his mother residing in a secure, very expensive medical facility. His publisher is demanding new content. Guy is desperate for inspiration to strike, but it doesn’t come, and he’s starting to fear he’s a hack lacking creativity.
Then an offer comes that’s too good to pass up: an all-expense paid residency away from the city where he can write in peace, free from distractions or any additional stress.
Jay Duplass excels as he reels from one problem to the next, wanting the best for others but also wanting more for him and feeling like he deserves it.
The opening moments with Guy’s mom, as he explains to the orderly that he will be away for two months to write, play like a man going to a priest to confess his sins and try to absolve himself of guilt.
This is his last chance to turn it all around; everything hinges on the success of this book. There’s a potent repeated theme throughout the film, where we are asked to consider what the story is worth.
The film moves at a steady pace without ever feeling rushed.
The constant narration blurs into everything, filling in story gaps if you are sharp enough to listen the first time you watch this.
Supporting cast members come and go, but the focus is always on Guy.
Maria Dizzia plays Julie, the local historian/lecturer who offers Guy insight into the area. She provides much-needed exposition simply and effectively while keeping the viewer on the hook. Thomas Jay Ryan, as Martin, plays another ‘famous’ writer and conveys a sense of underlying hostility to Guy. Both actors handle themselves so well without being overwrought.
There is no clear or linear narrative, but that works to the film’s advantage. We’re left to wonder what’s real and what is potentially all in the head of a desperate man at the end of his rope.
Everything becomes clear as we enter the final act, past and present coming together as Guy finally understands what has happened.
The tension builds slowly but effectively. All of the jumps in the narrative come together in a gratifying way. The ending really delivers the goods and makes you want to instantly rewatch the film.
Ghostwritten is visually striking, using mainly monochrome to give it a striking edge.
There are moments of almost subliminal color bleeding into the screen, which adds to the general unease.
The locations are stunning, windswept, and desolate, and these add to a sense of isolation that Guy must be feeling.
The musical score is unsettling, perfectly combined with the overlapping narration that is continually running, either as the main voice-over or as background on the radio. It’s wholly original, mixing between synths and ambient and all points in between.
Background noise is used to great effect where needed, not just to fill the air.
This isn’t a gorefest; it’s a film that concentrates on building unease, using sounds and shadows, and treating the audience with respect. Avoiding poor CGI or effects is always a brave move, and this is a better film for it.
A well-written and directed chiller that’s smart and satisfying, Ghostwritten does a lot with what it has, and it shows tremendous promise for writer-director Matthews.