Professor Cage does battle with supernatural and Celtic forces in an attempt to save his son on Halloween in Pay the Ghost.
Two years ago two of my greatest loves, Nicolas Cage and Halloween, came together in Uli Edel’s Pay the Ghost. The final result of this film is far from perfect but it has enough moments and a great Halloween atmosphere that makes it a worthy viewing for the spookiest time of the year. And it has Cage, we cannot forget that.
Cage stars as Mike, a college professor working hard to secure tenure. With so much time and energy dedicated to his job, Mike misses out on a lot with his wife Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies) and their 6-year-old son Charlie (Jack Fulton).
On Halloween Mike promises Charlie he’ll be home in time for the two of them to carve a pumpkin together before heading out for some trick or treating. Per usual Mike is late and Kristen can no longer wait and takes Charlie out to partake in the Halloween festivities. When Charlie and Kristen return home they find Mike waiting for them in a cowboy costume. In an effort to make things up to Charlie, Mike decides to take him to a nearby carnival.
At the carnival, Charlie disappears without a trace. Mike finds his pirate hat but outside of that, there is no sign of him. The police begin their investigation but turn up nothing. Flash forward a year to the eve of the following Halloween and both Mike and Kristen begin to hear and see things. Charlie is trying to contact them and the forces that took him go far beyond anything any of them had ever imagined.
Pay the Ghost takes a lot of ideas from other horror thrillers, some older and some more recent. I have no problem with this, in fact, I would highly encourage borrowing from things you love, but you have to do something different with them. The biggest problem with Pay the Ghost is that it takes other ideas we’ve seen before and just kind of throws them at you. It doesn’t expand on anything or do anything all that different. It lacks development.
The ending might be the film’s best (or worst?) example of poor development. The idea is cool. Cage is about to battle a supernatural being and that’s something I’d pay good money to see. The final fight isn’t too bad but it’s a bit anticlimactic. The film builds up tension and then just pulls the rug out from under you.
Development and ending aside, the film works on a few levels. If you’re looking for a few creeps and scares you’ll get some here. There are a handful of moments that genuinely creeped me out. Not jump scares, but those shots you see that just send a quick chill down your spine. There’s a moment in the film where Mike enters a supernatural world looking for Charlie and he finds hordes of kids. These kids are all victims that have been kidnapped on Halloween for hundreds of years so they’re all in costume. This means we see little kids in Halloween costumes from the early 20th century and there ain’t nothing creepier than old-timey Halloween costumes.
The film also has a fantastic Halloween vibe. Anytime I see houses in movies decorated for Halloween I get very excited. There’s a good bit of that in Pay the Ghost. And then there’s the Halloween carnival which is jam-packed with people in a wide variety of Halloween costumes. This movie feels like Halloween and it gets bonus points for that.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Cage talked a bit about what drew him to the film and what his motivation was.
“There were two elements that I really responded to,” Cage told EW. “The first was the emotional horror of every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing your child—this is something that I think all parents are terrified about. And then to roll from that to the idea of having to access another dimension to pull one’s son back from the supernatural realm. I had not really seen those two elements together before and that’s why I wanted to make the movie.”
Cage’s performance certainly reflects these thoughts. Mike is a broken man, an emotional wreck trying to overcome the loss of his son. He doesn’t go crazy and flip out, he’s just sad and wants his son back. Despite his sadness he never loses hope and is willing to go to great lengths, like entering a portal to another dimension, to get his son back.
Pay the Ghost isn’t perfect but it’s fun. It makes up for its flaws by having a love for Halloween. It may not work as well in eleven months out of the year but on a gloomy October night Pay the Ghost is a solid watch.