by Dan Benenson, published on February 24, 2010|
This trailer conveys the films great aspirations far better than mere words ever could.
Directed by Don McBearty, written by Heather Conkie and Larry Ketron, starring Michael Ontkean and Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee (this is how shes presented on the front of the DVD and in its promotional material, so Im assuming its an official title like Dame Judy Dench)
Ghost Cat is the third in a loose trilogy of films about nouns preceded by the word ghost, following in the esteemed footsteps of Ghost Dad and Ghost Ship. While it does not feature Bill Cosby or a group of people being sliced in half by a steel cable, it does tell the story of Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee (as Natalie Merritt) and her dad Wes (Ontkean) trying to start fresh after the death of their mom/wife by moving back to her hometown. There they meet a kindly old Old named Ruth Ashboro and her beloved pet cat Margaret. Theyd like to move into Ruths house, but Ruth isnt ready to sell. Luckily she dies a few days later, and so does Margaret (of a broken heart. Frowny face) so they get another shot at buying the house. Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee starts seeing things and hearing strange noises that may be the ghost of Mrs. Ashboros cat, aka GHOST CAT, and then a convoluted mess of other stuff happens.
Im not sure if Ghost Cat really is convoluted so much as its just stupid and I dont give a shit about whats going on beyond the presence of a GHOST CAT, but it sure seems like theyve woven an unnecessarily tangled web for an Animal Planet original movie. But oh that a mans reach might exceed his grasp, the makers of Ghost Cat have dared to dream.
Thus its a smorgasbord of subplots like the one with the greedy land developer trying to bully a neighbor into selling her farm/animal shelter, and the one involving Mrs. Asheboros greedy nephew who stole from his company, lost the money in the stock market, and is trying to get at his aunts savings. Theres also the greedy hunk that works at the animal shelter and may be a hiding history of juvenile delinquency, but all hes greedy for is Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee's affection. And thats just the tip of the subplot iceberg.
So the movie has sort of the same problem you might run into watching a mid 90s Shannon Tweed movie late at night on Cinemax; Im here for some paranormal feline action, goddamnit, not all this clunky story and bad acting. Am I better off going online and finding short videos of ghost cats doing their thing, without all the filler? Well, like those Skinemax flicks, all the buildup ultimately just makes the GHOSTLY, CATLY payoff all the sweeter.
Sure, scenes of the GHOST CAT actually getting up to supernatural hijinks probably only make up about 5% of the films running time, but it doesnt matter when that 5% consists of such spellbinding scenes as Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee seeing GHOST CAT in the middle of the road in front of her dads car, but when she screams for him to stop THE CAT IS MYSTEROUSLY GONE, or when EP2K8AAN hears atonal piano music in the middle of the night and goes downstairs to find the piano playing itself AS IF A GHOSTLY CAT WAS WALKING ON THE KEYS, and so on.
What Im getting at is that, while Ghost Cat does ultimately follow in the footsteps of such films as There Will Be Blood and Drag Me To Hell in delivering exactly what the title promises, the actual cat-based haunting aspects of the story are a little undercooked. The real focus is on Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee foiling the two clichéd greedy businessman villains, saving the local animal shelter, getting through attractive neighbor boys gruff exterior to find romance, coming to terms with the death of her mother, and getting her widowed dad together with the nice neighbor lady who runs the animal shelter. In other words, its every Disney Channel Original Movie ever made rolled into one, with a GHOST CAT thrown in to offer some assists from beyond the grave.
But maybe theres more depth to the movie than meets the eye. After Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee and Dad first meet the cat (before it dies and becomes GHOST CAT), Ruths nephew Boyd gravely informs them, Thats Margaret, my aunts baby seriously. I choose to assume he means the wiley Old One literally birthed the magical feline out of her own decrepit nether-realm (a ghost cat of an entirely different variety).
Then, in another early scene, Ruth insists that if not for her friend Brenda she never would have ended up with Margaret. The plot thickens; Brenda played some role in Ruths unprecedented journey into interspecies motherhood. Granted, Brenda runs an animal shelter and may have just given Ruth the cat, but I suspect the real meaning of the comment is far more sinister. Did Ruth spawn GHOST CAT through some Cronenbergian experimental medical process developed by Brenda? Or did the two women participate in a botched black magic ritual meant to impregnate the barren Ruth, only for her to wind up with a demonic cat offspring instead of the human child she so desperately desired? The movie leaves these questions unanswered, but they give the proceedings an added layer of disturbing subtext.
But the real meat of Ghost Cat is its wealth of dramatic close ups of a cat sitting and looking at things set to mysterious (yet whimsical!) music. You may doubt that much raw emotion and meaning can be mined from dramatic close ups of a cat sitting and looking at things set to mysterious music, but thats because youre not considering how versatile dramatic close ups of a cat sitting and looking at things set to whimsical music are.
First of all, think about how many different things the cat can be dramatically looking at. An old lady sitting in a chair. Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee . A dog. The possibilities are literally endless. Next, Mr. Skeptical, try to wrap your head around how many unique and interesting aesthetic variations of the shot are possible. Daytime, nighttime, inside, outside, from different angles. Sometimes, instead of just looking, the cat can also meow. A lot of the time youre gonna want to up the emotional ante and make the shot slow motion in post. Or occasionally you can shoot it black and white and superimpose it over flames and a picture of Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee's dead mother (who did not actually die in a fire, oddly), because sometimes thats just the only thing that will make sense. So when you really think about it, the dramatic reaction shot of a cat is the most criminally underused tool in the modern filmmakers toolbox.
In other words, GHOST CAT herself is WHISKER PURRRFECT (oh god forgive me Im sorry) in the titular role of GHOST CAT in the movie Ghost Cat. But how do the human cast members stack up? Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee does the best she can with the material and her exceptionally large, dome-iike forehead (seriously, never noticed that before, fame has done wonders for her haircut. Its like the upper half of Clint Howards head). In only about 10 minutes of screen time, veteran TV actress Shirley Knight casts a long shadow over the rest of the film as the kindly Ancient who owned/possibly spawned GHOST CAT. She adroitly sells her characters old age by being old, and makes the brilliant choice to play her characters death by ceasing to appear onscreen for the rest of the movie after the scene in which she dies.
To quote Matthew DeLuca of Tulsa OK's 5 star amazon.com user review of the film, Ghost Cat, which Im assuming is both the auspicious debut and fitting swan song of Animal Planets venture into the world of original movies, strikes a perfect balance of fun, happiness, spookiness, and joy, which is quite a feat considering three of those words are basically synonyms for each other.
The disc I got is a screener and only includes the trailer posted above. I was hoping for an extended ending in which its revealed that Margaret the GHOST CAT did not just want to help Ellen Page 2008 Academy Award Nominee and co. but actually wanted to inflict suffering on the world a la the girl from The Ring, but no dice.
Rating: 3.0 out of 10