Ghost Machine DVD (2009, Chris Hartwill, Anchor Bay)
Well, I suppose it had to happen. Taking the tropes of those Japanese spook movies which have been so prevalent since the success of The Ring and The Grudge, then mixing these with the VR world of films like Stay Alive, Ghost Machine has a fairly simple premise.
The army are experimenting with virtual reality training, courtesy of nerdy techies Tom (Sean Faris) and Vic (Luke Ford). They slot soldiers into a bloodthirsty ‘almost real’ environment to get them ready for front line assaults. But when our boys take their equipment to a nearby abandoned prison – used in the past to torture terrorists – and try it out there, the results are strange to say the least. Initially fun for the guinea pigs they’ve roped into this – one even insists on them using a porn DVD instead of the combat simulation – things go terribly wrong when the spirit of a woman captured and killed at the facility enters the ‘game’. Soon people are dying and neither Tom nor Vic can shut the system down.
Throw in a psychopathic sergeant in the shape of Taggert (Richard Dormer) – a perv who likes to watch female grunts in the shower – plus one of the women G.I.s in question, Jess (Rachael Taylor from Transformers), and the scene is set for a chase through the VR world to stop the angry shade. But what is real and what’s an illusion? By the end will even Tom and Vic recognise the difference?
Beginning with a mysterious and quite disturbing prologue set nine years in the past, the film quickly drifts into teen horror mode by establishing that the computer geeks and their friends have all the maturity of horny adolescents. There are some good action scenes, though you might question whether some of the blood and guts are actually necessary (do we really need to see someone’s head explode when they’re shot in the face?), but ultimately you don’t really end up caring about any of these characters or what happens to them. And by the end Faris’ irritating Tom Cruise impersonation just grates. The saving grace of the film, however, is the ghost itself: Hatla Williams as ‘Prisoner K’. Creepy and dangerous, her motivation is simply revenge and you can’t really blame her. The end confrontation isn’t bad either, in spite of the fact you can see the twist coming from a million miles away. In short, Ghost Machine is popcorn horror and not much more. Paul Kane