‘Thir13en Ghosts’ offers up few scares and even fewer surprises

Every so often, Hollywood takes it upon themselves to ruin another classic horror film. They find a way to take a relatively simple story and supply it with flashy editing, a staggering lack of heart, and a ragtag cast of people that seem to be counting the zeroes on the end of their paycheck in their heads rather than acting. What you end up with is a beautiful disaster. Thir13en Ghosts was Hollywood’s attempt to bring back the classic “revitalized horror” approach that seemed to die off for awhile after Jan de Bont’s remake of The Haunting gave studio execs nightmares with its inevitable critical panning. Much like the other attempts at re-vamping classic horror movies, Thir13en Ghosts succeeds on very few levels, but that’s even less surprising than the film’s conclusion.

The sad thing about Thir13en Ghosts is that it was destined to fail. I mean, look at the title even! In case you don’t actually know how to spell “thirteen” they just threw the numbers in there for good measure. The sad thing is it isn’t even done in a clever way. i mean, why in the world is the number 13 standing in for the letter “t”? I could see maybe the 1 where the “i” is and the 3 as a backwards, capitalized “E”… but it’s not even that important to discuss. Still, this probably the most intellectual discussion one could have with a movie like this.

Where Thir13en Ghosts had the potential to succeed, which led to its greatest failure arguably, is in the modernization. New effects allow for a new take on the story, or at least some creativity in bringing these ghosts to life. Instead, all of the progress that’s been made in film technology since the release of the original in 1960 has been used to create grotesque, vaguely translucent ghosts that are somehow supposed to inspire fear… at least, i think. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cheesy horror movie, and I even enjoy the use of gore as a scare tactic, but films like Thir13en Ghosts don’t know what to do with it. For starters, the whole idea of “less is more” which made many of these horror classics so powerful? That’s completely out the window. It’s all about what you can get away with showing now. Sadly, this makes for a handsome looking film, but little else.

I wish I could blame all of the film’s faults on its execution, but a fair amount of credit goes to the cast as well. Tony Shalhoub stumbles through insincere lines, Shannon Elizabeth does her best to play an innocent teenager, a game she should have left behind a long time ago, while a borderline offensive black nanny plays guardian to one of the most obnoxious children I’ve experienced in film. Of this entire cast, Tony Shalhoub is perhaps the greatest offender, considering I can’t help but feel like he should know better. I expect this from people like Shannon Elizabeth. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind her so much? I mean, I’m just saying, if someone can explain her appeal without talking about her breasts, I’d be curious to see how that works. She’s frequently treated as just a hot piece, so the movie does pretty much the same.

Still, what’s alarming about the film is that these characters, in their individual moments, aren’t so bad. I never said they were good, but at least, they can carry out the most basic scenes. It’s when they are together and we’re supposed to believe them as a family that I take issue. For instance, even in the film’s beginning, Bobby (the little kid who I feel safe in saying has probably not been in much else) is recording something about death, a personal topic of fascination. When his sister reprimands him, he tells her to stop being a slut. Never mind the fact that the insult makes no sense, but instead of reprimanding him, everyone just kinda smiles and chuckles. Um… what? That’s not really a family bonding moment there, is it?

Unfortunately, this type of bizarre “family” experience is just one of the many problems of a film which clearly presents style over substance. Although the film is surprisingly beautiful (especially its set design) that’s not enough to keep my attention for some 90-odd minutes. Furthermore, when you rely on quick, flash editing to convey any sense of terror, there’s a clear issue. What ends up ruling Thir13en Ghosts is its visual style over any real plot or story.

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