“Ghosts of War” looks like an interesting hybrid of two different genres at first, but it ultimately lets us down a lot. While you may be entertained a bit by how different genre elements clash with each other for a while, the movie is often hampered by its thin narrative and shallow characterization, and then it comes to disappoint us more during its last act as clumsily turning upside down whatever has been established and then developed during its first two acts.
After a grim quote at the beginning, the movie thrusts us into the ongoing situation of five American soldiers at the center of its story. It is around late 1944, and the World War II is approaching to its last chapter after the Normandy Landings, but the situation is still volatile in France as the Allied Forces clash against the final defiance of Nazi Germany, and these American soldiers certainly should be careful as they move around in some rural region of France.
They are ordered to go to a countryside mansion which was once occupied by those high-ranking military officers of Nazi Germany, and they certainly look forward to getting some good rest there while occupying the mansion for a while as ordered, but, needless to say, it turns out that there is something fishy about the mansion. A small group of other American soldiers are already there as waiting for our main characters’ arrival, and they seem quite relieved to leave the mansion, though they do not tell much about why they look rather weary of the mansion.
As the main characters begin to stay in the mansion, its dark secrets are slowly unfolded to them. The mansion belonged to some wealthy local family before the war, but they were all killed when Nazi German soldiers came to the mansion, and the mansion certainly feels like having been haunted as our main characters look here and there around in the mansion. There is a shady and stuffy basement where the old photograph of that dead family is found, and there is also a big library with a strange trace on the floor, which clearly suggests that something terrible happened not so long ago.
As time goes by, more strange things happen to the main characters. While frequently having hallucinogenic moments, they often feel like they are not the only ones living in the mansion, and they cannot help but feel nervous, and that makes them reflect more on some of their war experiences, which are not so pleasant to say the least. They believe without any doubt that the war is being over, but, as reflected by a small personal conversation among some of them at one point, the war still remains inside their mind, and it may never go away for the rest of their lives.
When something quite more terrifying happens, it is subsequently decided that they should leave the mansion no matter what will happen to them because of disobeying the order, but that only leads to more confusion and dread. When they are supposedly going away from the mansion, they discover that they have been already stuck in the mansion and its surrounding area in more than one way, and they have no choice but to go back to the mansion for facing whatever is lurking inside there.
Around that narrative point, the screenplay by director/writer Eric Bress, who previously wrote and directed “The Butterfly Effect” (2004), throws more moments of bafflement and dread as required. As its main characters attempt to delve more into their supernatural matter, we come to notice a number of odd things which do not make sense together at all, and their viewpoint becomes increasingly unreliable when they try to solve their urgent problem once for all.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the movie subsequently shows more of the ghosts of those dead family members, but they are merely disturbing with a series of obligatory moments for cheap shock. These elements are supposed to resonate with whatever our main characters experienced during the war, but then the movie suddenly takes a left turn as blatantly announced to us more than once. I cannot go into details here, but I can tell you at least that this virtually evaporates what has been built up in the story before that narrative point, and that is another major disappointment in the film.
The main cast members of the movie acquit themselves well on the whole, but there are not many things they can do from the beginning, while being stuck with their bland war movie characters. As you have probably noticed, I have simply referred to the main characters as ‘they’ without conveying to you any sense of individuality, and they are merely defined by their appearance and attitude without much personality to engage us. While Brenton Thwaites is the most prominent cast member in the bunch, he does not have enough presence to hold the center, and Theo Rossi, Skylar Astin, Kyle Gallner, and Alan Ritchson are mostly limited by their functional supporting roles.
In conclusion, “Ghosts of War” is a colorless dud which fails to generate any synergy from its genre hybridization. If you want a good recent war movie, I recommend you “The Outpost” (2020); if you want a good recent haunted house flick, I recommend you “Relic” (2020). Believe me, you will have a more productive time with either of these two very different films.