Prior to viewing the film, I felt that the premise was intriguing and full of potential, which is most fully achieved when the war and horror elements work in unison. For instance, Bress heightens the sense of paranoia and tension during initial scenes in the mansion by establishing the simultaneous threats of unseen enemy soldiers outside, and the supernatural forces within. There’s plenty of nervous glances, sudden loud noises, and shots revealing dangers just outside of the characters’ view; tropes - which in my opinion - feel equally at home in both the war and horror genres.
This sense of dread crescendoes in an impressive sequence during which the NAZIS storm the mansion, while the ghosts of the murdered former residents choose the same moment to reveal themselves. I won’t spoil how the latter is depicted, except to say that it’s just as mesmerising and disturbing as good horror should be. GHOSTS OF WAR does offer up too much explanation, but following this scene you’re left wondering what the hell just happened, and it is immensely satisfying.
Unfortunately, the film’s focus on atmosphere results the entire ensemble being underdeveloped; the five soldiers aren’t so much characters as they are blank canvases for scary stuff to happen around. This problem is exacerbated by incongruous casting choices, particularly Brenton Thwaites. Thwaites plays Chris, ostensibly the leader of the troop, yet he is the youngest and most baby-faced of the actors. Although he is perhaps capable of providing a commanding screen presence elsewhere; I wasn’t even sure of Chris’ rank until the third act. Similarly, I’ve seen Skylar Astin in too many musicals and rom-coms to fully suspend my disbelief when watching him here (but that's on me).
Bress’ script also runs out of steam in the third act, as the soldiers begin to confront the ghosts directly. Evidently faced with nowhere else to go, GHOSTS OF WAR attempts a twist ending that is absurd, convoluted, and takes a full twenty minutes to establish. Being so trop-filled the film feels is a little insulting, which ultimately dampened my impression of the film.
With the conclusion aside, conversely, GHOSTS OF WAR’s simple scope and well-executed thrills make it an easy recommendation for horror fans. After such a long hiatus, it’s reassuring to see that Eric Bress still has a solid understanding of the genre which brought him initial success.