The Ghost Who Walks: A Well-Directed, Intense Indie Action Film

Review by Andrew Sweatman, Senior Editor, Arthouse Garage

“Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” Many arguments have been sparked by this age old question, but the question itself is an interesting one because it attempts to deconstruct the holiday movie and explore the relationship between art and big cultural touchstones like Christmas. A movie like Die Hard is an anomaly because it uses Christmastime as a recognizable background element, but the movie isn’t about Christmas in the way we normally expect. That’s the case too for the compelling new indie crime drama The Ghost Who Walks, directed by Cody Stokes. 

The Ghost Who Walks follows Nolan (Garland Scott) who is getting out of prison as the movie opens. We quickly learn that he’s remarkably unpopular for having ratted out the criminal organization that landed him in jail, and his former associates are furiously hunting him down. We also learn Nolan’s primary motivator for wanting to become an informant and get out early is a daughter that he’s never met, and he’s desperate to start a new life with her and her mother Lena (Alexia Rasmussen). The story follows Nolan’s frenzied attempts to evade the hit men on his trail while trying to connect with Lena  and convince her to run away with him. 

Much of The Ghost Who Walks is frenetic and intense, reminiscent of recent films like the Safdie Brothers’ anxiety-fueled Good Time, but it also slows down to allow for quieter human moments, mostly striking that balance well. A nice touch is the meeting Nolan has with crime boss Dunya (Linda Kennedy). She adds an interesting wrinkle to the story by telling Nolan a folktale about a ghost which gives this film its title. Director Cody Stokes moves camera with the action in ways that are sometimes unexpected. There is one especially stunning scene  in which a home invasion is captured in a single shot, the camera whipping from room to room giving us a sense of the geography.   

There are strong performances throughout, including the lead Garland Scott, though he definitely seems most adept at scenes that include brooding or fighting. He has a great face for a gritty movie like this and some skill in an action scene, but didn’t make a strong impression in the scenes that required some emotional vulnerability. The broadest performance in the film is by Frank Mosley as Stitches, one of the few people left in the criminal world who hasn’t completely disowned Nolan for being a rat. Stitches is a loudmouth and lowlife, but Mosley imbues him with an enormous sense of humor and a surprising amount of pathos. Notable also is Dasha Nekrasova who plays Mitzie, a prostitute that Nolan ends up befriending. She’s the most memorable character in this movie, despite her character being a bit underwritten. She and Nolan form a makeshift father/daughter relationship that serves to bring some emotion and lightness amidst this otherwise heavy film. 

What doesn’t completely work about The Ghost Who Walks is the screenplay. While the dialogue is really strong, the plot has some head-scratching moments with regards to character motivations that are never resolved, and things drag a bit in the second act. There are also a few emotional moments that don’t quite land, including the final conversation between Nolan and Mitzie; their goodbye is sweet but the emotion it goes for doesn’t feel completely earned. Another issue is the action scenes which are passable but never return to the glory of that home invasion sequence mentioned above. There are some blocking issues in a couple of the fight scenes that make them feel unrealistic and pull you out of the story. One more thing I should mention is just how dark and gritty this film is, which is not a problem in itself, but sometimes doesn’t serve the overall story and seems gratuitous or edgy for the sake of being edgy. Again, that’s okay, but this movie isn’t for everyone. Viewers may feel the need to shower afterwards.

Don’t come in expecting Christmas spirit. Like Die Hard before it, The Ghost Who Walks has all the imagery but none of the cheerfulness of a traditional Christmas movie, but that means you can enjoy it year-round. It’s streaming on Netflix so it’s easy to put on when you are in the mood for something exciting, but it’s definitely not for everyone. The Ghost Who Walks is a thrilling and compelling indie, but because of its flaws and its overall heaviness, I recommend it only if you have a strong love for action, or dark and moody holiday films.

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