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Pay the Ghost Blu-ray Review

Pay the Ghost (2015) movie poster Pay the Ghost

Theatrical Release: September 23, 2015 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Uli Edel / Writers: Dan Kay (screenplay), Tim Lebbon (novella)

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Mike Lawford), Sarah Wayne Callies (Kristen Lawford), Veronica Ferres (Hannah), Lyriq Bent (Jordan), Lauren Beatty (Annie), Kalie Hunter (Ghost Annie), Jack Fulton (Charlie Lawford), Stephen McHattie (Blind Man), Susannah Hoffmann (Jane)

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There is no need to document Nicolas Cage's career struggles yet again. If you've recently awakened from a 5-year coma, all you need to know is that Cage is still characteristically making movies all the time.
It's just that now the movies barely play in theaters, if at all. Cage has had just one live-action wide release since his unwanted sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance bombed in early 2012: last fall's Left Behind remake, a Rapture thriller no one embraced. Cage is still doing what he does, though, agreeing to star in action thrillers, presumably for a good deal less than the $12-$20 million a film he commanded at his commercial peak.

This year has been relatively slow for Cage. He's acted in three movies whose theatrical status seems up for debate. The first two -- the China-produced sword and shield tale Outcast and Louisiana politician drama The Runner -- are among the ten worst movies of 2015 I've seen. Joining them now is Pay the Ghost, another film whose US theatrical release date on IMDb and critics' reviews is unsupported by box office records and first-hand moviegoer accounts.

Moving him from his adopted home New Orleans to New York City (which Toronto conspicuously stands in for), Pay the Ghost stars Cage as Mike Lawford, a hard-working college professor who is given tenure one Halloween. In good spirits that night, he obliges the wishes of his trick-or-treating 7-year-old son Charlie (Jack Fulton) to check out the city's Halloween carnival. While Mike buys him an ice cream cone, Charlie vanishes. We jump ahead 362 days to find the boy still missing without a trace and Mike and his now separated wife Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies of "The Walking Dead") still in utter disarray over it.

In "Pay the Ghost", a professor dressed as a cowboy (Nicolas Cage) loses his pirate-fashioned son at a Halloween carnival.

Mike grows increasingly irritated by the NYPD's lack of information on the case. Days before another Halloween, he starts seeing his missing son in different places, like a departing bus. Authorities, who have never completely ruled out Mike as a suspect, dismiss them as the hallucinations of a distraught man. But when Kristen starts seeing them too, she and Mike come together to pursue their independent investigations.

Disturbing images begin appearing on the estranged couple's devices (her tablet, his video camera unused in a year). Lights flicker on and off while Kristen is in the shower. Mike uses a work colleague (Veronica Ferres) to explore how the unsolved Halloween disappearances of his and other New Yorkers' children relates to the film's prologue set in 1679. Also, a psychic medium inspecting Charlie's room is hurled about the room and spontaneously combusts.

Pay the Ghost desperately wants to unsettle you, but its terrors are entirely based in fiction and never assume any semblance of logic or order to convince you otherwise. That backstory involving 17th century Celtic persecution probably was enough to get Cage to say yes (it can't take much these days) to a movie resembling two other child disappearance tales (Stolen, Rage) he has made in the past three years. But it doesn't enhance the film's credibility or make you any more willing to accept the hodgepodge of horror movie ideas barely seasoned screenwriter Dan Kay throws at you with his adaptation of Tim Lebbon's 2000 short story.

When the NYPD doesn't satisfy him, Mike Lawford (Nicolas Cage) and wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) turn to junkies whose kids have also been abducted on Halloween.

Kay, director Uli Edel (mostly versed in US and German television), and the supporting cast don't show any greater interest in the project than Cage, who has even ceased developing characters with distinct hairstyles and accents. Everyone treats this as nothing more than a decent paycheck. Cage clings to just enough star power to garner some interest from the general public despite the inevitably disapproving reviews and a virtually non-existent theatrical release from RLJ Entertainment, a studio that makes much more money from home video than big screen exhibitions.

RLJ almost seems determined not to make much from either format on this release. How else to explain releasing a movie that extensively deals with Halloween to Blu-ray and DVD just ten days after Halloween?
You can understand the studio not overselling the Halloween angle to diminish interest for the rest of the year, but getting the disc in stores just two or three weeks earlier could only have helped attract some attention from those looking to observe the holiday with a Halloween-themed movie they haven't before seen. Instead, Pay the Ghost will end up languishing in relative obscurity like more than a dozen other Cage vehicles released essentially direct-to-video over the past four years.

With a third National Treasure movie still mere rumor and a second Croods still just animated, there is no sign of Cage suddenly recovering from this rough patch. An unspecified supporting role in Oliver Stone's delayed Snowden stands as the only item in his dire upcoming filmography with even a slim potential to be widely seen and respected.

Pay the Ghost Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $29.97
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Side-Snapped Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.96 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though it's clearly far from the Jerry Bruckheimer budgets Cage used to know, Pay the Ghost looks positively fine on Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 picture is clean, sharp, and well-defined, exhibiting nothing worse than a suitable layer of filmic grain. For better or worse, the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack makes repeated efforts to envelop you with sound effects.

Turkey vultures are an ominous presence in "Pay the Ghost" and its Blu-ray's top menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Pay the Ghost is joined by no bonus features,
not even its trailer. The disc does open with HD trailers for Nicolas Cage's Rage and Odd Thomas, neither of which is accessible by menu.

That menu plays an ordinary montage of clips in the top three-quarters of the screen, while the bottom fourth holds the three basic listings (Play, Scenes, Set-Up). The disc doesn't support bookmarks but does resume unfinished playback.

The insert-less, side-snapped keepcase does slide into a sleek, embossed slipcover featuring the same artwork below and suggesting maybe RLJ actually does want people to discover this movie.

Mike Lawford (Nicolas Cage) has his missing child poster time interrupted by a strange sight in "Pay the Ghost."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Pay the Ghost, like most of Nicolas Cage's latest movies, does not show much more regard for viewers than its star shows it. This Halloween mystery thriller, curiously arriving on home video two weeks late, tries to jar you with everything from invented folklore to turkey vultures and does not succeed. Only Nic Cage completists who enjoy the challenge of seeing everything he makes would find any joy in renting this turkey.

Buy Pay the Ghost from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Nicolas Cage: Stolen The Runner Left Behind Outcast Seeking Justice The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
Nicolas Cage: National Treasure National Treasure: Book of Secrets Ghost Rider Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Con Air
Nicolas Cage: The Sorcerer's Apprentice Season of the Witch Kick-Ass Peggy Sue Got Married Next Drive Angry Knowing The Croods G-Force
Sarah Wayne Callies: Into the Storm The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season | Directed by Uli Edel: Houdini
Ransom The Believers The Vanishing (1993) Halloween Hocus Pocus The Numbers Station

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Reviewed November 8, 2015.



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