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(2020) (Brenton Thwaites, Skylar Astin) (R)

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Horror: Assigned to protect a French chateau once occupied by Nazis, five American G.I.s soon discover the place is haunted.

It's 1944 and American G.I. Chris (BRENTON THWAITES) and his small squad -- consisting of Eugene (SKYLAR ASTIN), Tappert (KYLE GALLNER), Kirk (THEO ROSSI), and Butchie (ALAN RITCHSON) -- have been assigned to relieve another military crew in protecting a French chateau previously held by the Nazis who've since been driven out. The soldiers think it's going to be a cakewalk assignment, but note the eagerness and speed of their predecessors in getting out of the place.

And that's because they soon learn -- via small things that get progressively hairier -- that it's haunted, apparently by the family that owned the place before the Nazis tortured and killed them. With no support expected, the American soldiers must not only contend with the possibility of Nazis unexpectedly showing up, but also the supernatural events that get worse as the days wear on.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

Considering the various parallels of terror that haunt military folks in the moment and then long afterward, it's surprising more ghost-based horror movies aren't set during wartime periods. Granted, most supernatural flicks are of the low-budget variety (thus the preponderance of those set in "regular" houses and other such locales), and throwing in any sort of war action and related effects could bump the budget up enough to make financiers uneasy about spending that extra money.

Nonetheless, the actual and thematic commonalities between being spooked by ghosts and haunted by war (remember Brando's character in "Apocalypse Now" insanely muttering "the horror...the horror") would seem too enticing to pass up.

Perhaps that's what makes the beginning of "Ghosts of War" so intriguing. Set in 1944, the story revolves around a small squad of American soldiers -- leader Chris (Brenton Thwaites), bespectacled Eugene (Skylar Astin), unstable, high-strung Tappert (Kyle Gallner), regularly guy Kirk (Theo Rossi), and brawny Butchie (Alan Ritchson) -- who've been ordered to protect a French chateau from falling back into enemy hands. The men, who've just killed a jeep-full of Nazis, could use some R&R, and the thought of real beds, plenty of brandy and other such creature comforts could be just what the doc ordered.

Strangely, the men they're replacing -- who've been sleeping outside or on the living room floor -- are all too eager to get out, but don't explain why. Instead, it's up to our quintet -- who've seen enough real-life horrors presumably not to let some odd sounds and strange occurrences get under their skin -- to discover the cause of what goes bump in the night.

For a good thirty or so minutes, writer/director Eric Bress had me hooked, with the solid to strong performances, cinematography, score, production design, and more transporting me into the setting and drawing me into the story and its mood. Likewise, I appreciated the simple but effective setup of why the men can't leave -- as they're under direct orders and could be court-martialed for abandoning their post -- compared to the usual idiocy of characters who unrealistically stick around far too long after the creepy stuff starts.

But then the usual haunted house tropes started rolling out and the feeling of watching something somewhat original in the genre turned into just more of the same old, same old, albeit with the addition of a Nazi home invasion sequence. That's nothing, however, compared to the third act twist that comes so far out of left field that even M. Night Shyamalan would likely respond with "What the..?"

I obviously won't divulge what that is, but in the moment of watching the film, it's so jarring and incongruous with the rest of the material that it's likely to jettison many a viewer out of the proceedings, which is never a good thing. That said, and with the benefit of some time having passed since the jolt, I've come to better appreciate what Bress was trying to achieve and how everything fits together in hindsight.

I just wish it worked more seamlessly in the moment and elicited a wide-eyed "ah" or "wow" response rather than an incredulous "what" accompanied by a furrowed brow. Perhaps a second viewing is in order. Until then, I have to give "Ghosts of War" an A for concept but just a 5.5 score for execution.

Reviewed July 13, 2020 / Posted July 17, 2020

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