Directors – Matt Glass & Jordan Wayne Long, Screenplay – Jordan Wayne Long & Tara Perry, Producers – Christina McLarty Arquette, David Arquette, Matt Glass, Jordan Wayne Long, Michael May & Tara Perry, Photography/Music/Visual Effects – Matt Glass, Production Design – Jordan Wayne Long. Production Company – Devil Tub Productions/HCT. Media.
Thomas Hobson (James McCune), Phil Morris (Matthew McCune), Tara Perry (Annie), Tim Blake Nelson (Torb), David Arquette (Douglas Dubois), Angela Bettis (Lucille), Joseph Ruud (William), Brandon Gibson (Mick), Neva Howell (Miss Roberts), Ed Lowry (Dovvy), Scott Dean (Micah), Skylar Olivia Flanagan (Emma), Aaron Preusch (Joe)
Following service in the American Civil War, James McCune travels to the town of Norfork in the remote Ozarks. He has been summoned by his uncle Matthew, the mayor, who wants him to take up a position as the town’s doctor. Arriving, James passes through the woods and watches as shadowy creatures emerge out of the crimson mists and kill a man who tries to attack him. Welcomed into the safety of the town. he discovers that the people live in an unusual harmony. Settling in, he also finds that the town holds secrets, while there is the ever-present threat of the creatures that lurk beyond the walls.
Ghosts of the Ozarks was a debut feature film for directors Matt Glass and Jordan Wayne Long. They had previously made the basics of this as a seven-minute short film Ghosts of the Ozarks (2016). The two also operate HCT Media, along with actor David Arquette, his wife Christina McLarty Arquette and Long’s wife Tara Perry (who also co-writes the script and plays the role of the girl with the mute brother in the film). Around the same time, HCT also produced the horror film 12 Hour Shift (2022).
I began to immediately attune to the world that Glass and Long create with the film. The woods beyond the town are a twilight zone of crimson mist out of which lurk mysterious little-seen phantoms with glowing eyes. The town inside the walls lives in a seemingly utopian harmony where racial barriers that exist in the outside world have been erased. There is a formalism to the dialogue that is odd and unusual, hinting at deeper secrets in the town – it makes you listen to what is being said, which is more than what you can say of most films.
The film comes with a great supporting cast, including horror regular Angela Bettis as the barmaid; David Arquette as a tailor with an interest in early photography; and Phil Morris, of appearance in various Star Trek series, as Thomas Hobson’s uncle, the town mayor. All give distinctive performances abetted considerably by the unusualness of the dialogue. The best of the performance is the one given by Tim Blake Nelson as the blind barman who calculates depth using a series of vocal clicks and offers a series of eerily pithy presentiments about what is happening.
The obvious comparison to be made is between Ghosts of the Ozarks and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004). Both films feature a small community of people in an idyllic 19th Century setting shut off from the rest of the world, while mysterious creatures lurk in the nearby woods and the locals are kept in a state of fear about venturing beyond the village’s confines.
[PLOT SPOILERS] The Village ran aground with a shaggy dog ending where it was revealed that we were actually in the 21st Century and this was a throwback society where the monsters were people in suits designed to keep the villagers in a state of fear. Ghosts of the Ozarks has a not dissimilar twist ending. There is no revelation of everything being located in the present day but we do get an identical twist where it is revealed that there are no creatures in the woods, they are just people in costume. While in both films, this is done for the purposes of maintaining social control, here it is to execute those who criticise the regime. Like The Village, it is a case of standout build-up that falters at a contrived Rationalised Fantasy twist ending.