Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Southern Gothic

Film: Ghosts of the Ozarks
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Movies can be the most frustrating thing sometimes. Ghosts of the Ozarks is a really good example of this. This is a film that desperately wants to have an interesting story to tell and does a lot of things right. And when we get to the end, it spoils all of that with perhaps the most contrived ending possible. There’s a tremendous sense of mystery here that holds promise right up to the point where that mystery is revealed, and it really damages the entire movie.

I’m calling this a Western because there very much is a sense of this being a part of that genre despite it taking place in Arkansas. A doctor named James McCune (Thomas Hobson) is recruited by his uncle (Phil Morris) to attend their community. James goes, but is accosted along the way by a man who, when a red mist comes through the forest, is dragged away by something unseen. James soon locates the town of Norfork, which is hidden behind a massive wall. It’s here that he learns about the ghosts, the creatures that surround the area and both protect the town and harass anyone who goes out at night.

There is an exception, though. Annie (Tara Perry) and her silent brother William (Joseph Ruud), who seems to have some protection from the ghosts and survive outside of the wall. As James incorporates himself into the town’s society, a number of strange things start to become apparent. It is soon evident that his uncle Matthew runs the town in some way, but how is unclear. This is especially true for a Black man in rural post-Civil War Arkansas. The ghosts that surround the town have a strange power over the population, who seem to both fear and worship them to some degree.

Others in the town have various opinions about the ghosts as well. Douglas (David Arquette) seeks to take a photograph of the ghosts, but with the rudimentary camera technology of the day, he is having no luck in doing so. The local tavern is run by a blind Swedish immigrant named Torb (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife Lucille (Angela Bettis). Torb appears to have a sort of echolocation ability inside his bar, touching again on the vaguely unsettling and supernatural aura of Norfork.

Despite being warned not to, James finds himself being compelled to dig into the reality of the town and what is the truth behind the ghosts. And this is honestly where the movie loses me. While I tend not to read a lot of reviews before I watch a movie like this where I’m going in mostly cold, I do tend to check the overall critical sense of the film. There are a lot of poor-to-middling reviews on Letterboxd, and I genuinely didn’t understand why until I got to the end and everything was revealed. I’m going to put this under a spoiler tag—it feels like it’s something that needs to be said, but I don’t want to spoil this needlessly for anyone who might want to watch it eventually.


Honestly, it’s just a variation of The Village from M. Night Shyamalan. It’s not that it takes place in modern times, but the ghosts are just…villagers in weird costumes that are keeping everyone else in line so that they can secretly dig for diamonds in the area. The red mist is just a chemical formula that disorients people so that they can be victimized by the “ghosts” without as much struggle. That’s it—it’s a massive hoax.

Essentially, this turns out to be a really long episode of Scooby Doo. He would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that meddling doctor.


There’s such promise here. While Ghosts of the Ozarks isn’t really doing anything new, it does what it wants to do very well up to the last 15=20 minutes. That’s okay sometimes; not everything has to have a completely innovative story, but when the ending is as contrived and disappointing as this one, it feels like they should have done more with it. Angela Bettis and Tim Blake Nelson deserve better than a film that essentially throws up its hands and shrugs at the end.

Why to watch Ghosts of the Ozarks: “Horror Western” is a genre mash-up that is sadly under utilized.
Why not to watch: The ending is a pure disappointment.


  1. Well that sucks. With a cast like this, I'd expect something better.

    1. Agreed. It's a surprising cast for a movie with this pedigree and I really wanted it to be good. It just punks the ending.