Incident in a Ghostland (2018)
Updated: Jun 1, 2023
Most of the content I consume is macabre and Netflix’s algorithm and my account history are aware of this. I came across this movie as a recommendation and upon watching the trailer I had zero interest in watching it. Crystal Reed plays Beth, the older version of one of the main characters and I loved her in Teen Wolf but even that didn’t make me want to watch. Cut to a few weeks later a Tik Tok video popped up on my For You Page with recommendations for horror movies with twists to watch. I’ll admit I am a sucker for a twist and trying to determine what that twist is before it’s revealed in the movie. I figured why not, especially with an open spot in my review schedule. I am glad I gave the movie a chance because I ended up enjoying it and finding myself unable to look away not wanting to miss a clue to the big reveal.
Our main characters include Beth (played by Emilia Jones and Crystal Reed) , her older sister, Vera (played by Taylor Hickson and Anastaisia Phillips), and their mother (played by Mylène Farmer). We meet them as they are traveling to their recently deceased distant relatives’ home. I’m not sure if I missed it or they didn’t mention it, but I believe they’re going to move into said home. The conversation in the car gives us some insight into the relationship dynamic that Vera is the more typical well-adjusted teen who had a boyfriend and friends she left behind to move and Beth is a little weirder, an aspiring horror writer who love H.P. Lovecraft and is on the lonelier side. Their mother is French and despite them all knowing French Vera insists they speak English (lame). Off rip I am not a huge fan of Vera because she annoys me and is mean to her sister for no reason at all.
It doesn’t take long for the very important plot point that Beth is a “scaredy cat” to emerge. She is petrified by any jump scare and sign of danger despite being an aspiring horror writer. We also learn through a hushed conversation between Vera and their mother that Beth has a habit of playing make believe when writing. She explains that she found a full interview written by Beth as if she is an adult writer being interviewed about an upcoming release. This is odd but we file this away until much later in the movie. For now, we just see how creepy this house is with a doll emerging from behind a mirror like a messed-up jack in the box and horrifying dolls in varying stages of decay cluttering the house. Their aunt being the quirky, weird, French woman who lived in the old house according to an earlier scene with a local.
On the ride to the house, they encountered a scary candy van which Vera decided to flip off (thanks Vera). This van of course arrives at their isolated home ominously. The three women are attacked by a large man (think Goonies) and a hooded figure with a large knife. Vera is knocked out early in the scuffle and Beth completely freezes effectively becoming useless in this encounter. Their mom however is a total badass and despite taking some damage kicks major ass and wins the standoff. Beth has still done nothing but never mind this because we are now watching an adult Beth wake from a night terror about the event.
This older Beth is a successful horror writer who now goes by Elizabeth. She’s married, has a child who is called Harlequin, and even does a big interview about her upcoming release. The interviewer nudges that the book is based on the terror that her and her family faced at the house. She doesn’t like to talk about that though and it’s apparent from this interview and her other reactions that she has not even attempted to deal with the trauma of the event. No time to dwell on that though because she gets a call from her sister, frantic and screaming for help. This leads to the information that her sister did not come out of the attack as well as she did and still suffers from it as if she’s still living in it.
Already from this scene something is clearly amiss. Beth doesn’t even react with alarm to this phone call. She’s just like hmm maybe I should head out to the house and make sure all is well with my sister and mom. She is not quick to action and is just like whatever about this phone call and not being able to reach her mom. At this point I am like what the hell is going on.
After getting to the house, we learn that Vera still has visions of the events that took place and voluntarily locks herself in the basement. She’s being attacked by ghosts but for some reason her mom and Beth just still assume it’s all in her head. Vera quickly unravels and at the height of buildup to Vera acting odd and freaking out her mother tells her not to trust a word Vera says. In the face off with Vera Beth is getting her ass kicked by the same invisible figure Vera has been fighting off up until this point. Even now Beth still thinks this is all Vera.
Vera starts going on and, on that Beth, needs to wake up and realize what happened. We sadly come to find out that Beth and Vera are still trapped in the basement as young girls, their mother did die in the attack rather than win it, and Beth’s family has been her brain’s interpretation of two paintings in the basement, one of a Harlequin and one of a man. Beth has disassociated during this captivity period, and I don’t blame her. Her mind has created a whole fictional world to protect her from the horrors she faces in the house. This reveal, though somewhat guessable after the time Beth has spent at the house with her mother and sister, is still a good reveal. This doesn’t happen too late in the movie so of course while watching I questioned, “well now what?"
For the remainder of the movie, we learn the situation the girls face, trapped in the house with a disturbed woman and a large man-child who wants to abuse dolls and living dolls alike. He is known to throw fits and attack any sudden noises or movements from said dolls. The girls are being used as dolls to entertain this creep. Fortunately for them and the viewer these two are strong badasses who manage to outsmart their captors and escape.
Upon their escape they run through the night and happen upon a police car on the highway that stops to give them assistance. Somehow the captors have made it to this spot unfortunately and shoot the police officers, once again capturing the two girls. Beth goes back to the world her mind has created but ultimately decides to return as to not abandon her sister. The police arrive just in time to kill both captors during their final face off with the two girls.
At the start of this movie I didn't like how little Beth reacted to the action around her but once the whole story comes together it makes sense why she wouldn't. Her mind is too stunned to even react to the situation unfolding to the extent that she builds her own world to escape to. This feels like a realistic reaction to such gruesome events happening around someone. Watching her mother die in front of her quite literally breaks her psyche and I believe that this is a more common reaction to something that horrific than we see displayed in horror. Her fantasy world draws on her current environment pulling details from her surroundings into her own narrative to make them digestible. Her mind is doing all that it can to survive. It's heart wrenching to watch her sister struggle with both the actions of their captors and the reality of their circumstances while trying to pull her sister back to reality. While Beth is in her current reality she is actually able to make progress towards their escape, finding a weapon in the dolls hair pin and managing to find out how best to attack the "Fat Man".
Even upon the girls escape we cannot breathe a sigh of relief as the candy truck returns to not only recapture them but kill both officers. In this scene I liked the fake out of the truck coming down the road towards the sheriff's car, leading the viewer to believe that it's the candy truck coming for the girls, but in reality this is just a regular truck. Though the fact that they got recaptured pissed me off I understood why the plot might've needed just a dash more tension to feel complete upon their survival.
I'm glad that I decided to watch this movie and found it entertaining. The big reveal is guessable past a certain point but I didn't guess the remaining action of the film which kept me on my toes waiting for a conclusion. I'm glad that both girls survive in the end after all that they go through. Probably won't be a frequent rewatch but if someone is looking for a good movie to watch I'd recommend this film.
Recommended score: 7/10