Ghostwritten Movie Review
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In Ghostwritten (2021), a writer in desperate need of his next novel checks into an island residency for some much-needed focus and solitude. What he gets is an unfinished manuscript, shifts in time, and a lot of running.
Guy Laury (Jay Duplass) is a one-hit novelist and years behind on his second novel. In an effort to angle for another advance to pay for his addled mother’s long-term care, he accepts an offer from his publisher to spend the winter on an island writing. He runs into Martin Cline (Thomas Jay Ryan), a successful novelist of many books and a man Guy looks up to, and they strike up a friendship. While trying to settle down to write, Guy finds all manner of distractions from running to research at the library to drinking at the island’s only bar. He discovers a manuscript in the floorboards and attempts to tie it to an unsolved island murder mystery. None of this has anything to do with the novel he’s currently writing, but he becomes obsessed with it all the same. As he gets closer to a truth, (whether it’s the actual truth is anyone’s guess}, the island around him becomes increasingly more disconnected and dangerous. Is solving the mystery worth what he may have to exchange for knowledge?
If we’re being completely honest, I rarely had any idea what was going on in Ghostwritten, but I have to say I enjoyed what I watched. Characters talked in philosophic circles and if anyone answered a straight question, it had to have been by accident. Jay Duplass embodies the milquetoast writer trapped by circumstances and retreating into his own head. As the surrogate to the audience, it was comforting to see he had no idea what was going on either, and it was a very relatable connection. We would follow him to the end, and all would be revealed.
Filmed in black and white with a few off-splashes of color, Ghostwritten feels like tiptoeing along the edges of someone else’s dream. With narration that could be an inner monologue, a specter of memory, or something else entirely, there is no steady footing or landmarks to orient by. Writer-director Thomas Matthews kept the settings – the library, the bar, the residence – claustrophobic, adding to the atmosphere of no escape.
Ghostwritten needs a specific frame of mind to view, one free of distractions like cellphones, tablets, or commercial breaks. The sound is mixed in overlapping loops of music and dialogue, and if you’re lucky, your copy will have subtitles. Mine didn’t and spoken words were difficult to separate ethereal whispers or actual conversation.
I couldn’t spoil the ending if I wanted to because the mumbled and mixed soundscape made the revelation impossible to understand. I watched the last 30 minutes twice and couldn’t make heads nor tails of it.
I like the idea of a thriller-murder mystery, they’re totally my jam. I just wish I could have understood more of what was going on. Is there a ghost? Is the island a purgatory? Did Jay never leave home?
I. Don’t. Know.
I would watch it again with subtitles if that says anything about the quality of the story, or at least the parts I could understand. Plus, I hate not knowing stuff.
Ghostwritten (2021) is unrated as it debuts on streaming platforms on demand. I would call it PG-13 as there are few swears, no nudity, some elder wrangling, people getting shot at, lots of recreational drinking, a bar fight, and some nebulous demonic imagery.