Director Jason Reitman calls upon the spirit of his father’s original in what proves to be an entertaining if somewhat derivative nod to 1980s sci-fi cinema.
For three decades, the Ghostbusters, with proton packs on backs and tongues lodged firmly in cheeks, have held the monopoly in the business of apprehending antagonistic apparitions. In the 37 years since Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis saved the world from a giant marshmallow man, few bands of movie misfits have come close to capturing the gooey blend of pulpy thrills and irreverent quippiness with quite the same degree of cultural aplomb.
Somewhat ironically then, the one spectre the Ghostbusters franchise has never truly been able to overcome is that left by its own 1984 original. Director Ivan Reitman, along with much of the principal cast, tried to recapture the magic half a decade later with a sequel that was nothing more than an underwhelming imitation of the first film, while Paul Feig attempted to breathe new life into the series with an enjoyable and unfairly lambasted female-led remake in 2016.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife, in a similar vein to David Gordon Green’s retcon/reboot Halloween movie from 2018, opts for a clean slate, operating as a direct sequel to the first Ghostbusters. The story follows single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two teenage children, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, who dons the iconic boilersuit get-up for a second time after doing so in season two of Stranger Things). Due to money troubles, the trio are forced to move from the city to the rural town of Summerville, and into the decrepit farmhouse previously owned by Callie’s enigmatic late father.
But a sleepy, quiet change of pace this certainly ain’t. Rather, this small Oklahoman community is, quite literally, in the midst of a shake-up: every day, inexplicable earth-rumbling tremors are felt throughout the town. Could it be the result of fracking? Or a fracking great otherworldly takeover? Phoebe and Trevor are soon on a Goonie-esque hunt for answers, investigating rundown factories and abandoned mines with the help of schoolteacher-cum-seismology fanatic, Mr Grooberson (Paul Rudd in a surprisingly sparse comic relief role).
Blending familiar coming of age tropes with colourful CGI and sci-fi shtick in true Amblin fashion, Reitman’s film shrewdly juxtaposes more sincere themes of loss and absence with a raucous adventure about the afterlife.
Directed and co-written by Ivan’s son, Jason, this is a story that rather aptly places family front and centre. Blending familiar coming of age tropes with colourful CGI and sci-fi shtick in true Amblin fashion, Reitman’s film shrewdly juxtaposes more sincere themes of loss and absence with a raucous adventure about the afterlife. Worlds are bridged, and so too are eras: in a neat, if less than subtle nod to his father’s seminal work, Summerville is a place seemingly stuck in the 1980s. In fact, were it not for the occasional reference to the trends of today (one character is literally called Podcast), François Audouy’s homage-laden production design—all tacky diners and vintage movie theatres—coupled with the spooky throbs of Rob Simonsen’s Theremin-heavy score would have you believe this was a place perpetually wedded to the past.
Then again, that might be entirely the point. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is, more than anything else, fan service of the most unashamed kind. From a Slimer-inspired apparition called ‘Muncher’ to a police officer asking an incarcerated Trevor “Who you gonna call?”, this is a movie that panders wholeheartedly to the loyal Ecto-1 obsessives. The result is a narrative that amounts to little more than an Easter egg-filled rehash of what came before: a multitude of winks and nudges to series fans that often lacks the same knowing embrace of its own silliness that served the first film so well. But, in the end, this is a charming and surprisingly touching celebration of family and friendship that comes at a particularly poignant time when moviegoers are returning to the multiplex in large numbers, and family and friends are being reunited once again.
With Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Jason Reitman has conjured up a kooky, sentimental jolt down memory lane. It’s shameless, unoriginal fan service, but rarely has shameless, unoriginal fan service been this much fun.
Words by George Nash
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is out now in cinemas
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