Anchor Bay // 2009 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 5th, 2010
How do you stop her if she doesn't exist?
A combat simulation gets a bad case of the heebie-jeebies.
Rachael Taylor (Transformers) headlines as a soldier-in-training who finds herself sucked into a weird horror experience, when some Army scientists decide to take their new virtual reality combat simulation for an unauthorized round of playtime. The technology plugs the users into a realistic mind trip, allowing them to live out their gun-toting fetishes.
What starts out as Modern Warfare: The Next Level turns into a creepfest. There's a literal ghost in the machine, the spirit of a pissed-off woman who's exacting her revenge on the hapless players.
This isn't too bad, turning out to be one of the better inside-a-video-game movies I've seen. It's not quite Nick Arcade, but let's all be honest with ourselves: what is?
What I liked the most was the video game simulation aspect of the film. It's a well-executed concept despite not being wholly novel. The participants materialize in dark hallways and bounce from level to level, blasting away at bad guys who are respawned. These sequences aren't laden with visual effects, but they're executed well and get across the feeling of what it would be like to virtually participate in a game.
Ironically, when the teeth of the plot sink in, the introduction of the supernatural nemesis, Ghost Machine begins to lag. The interesting combat simulation and video game riff just sort of degrade into a standard-issue spook tale. Without getting too spoilery, I'll just say the spectral malcontent here is a girl nursing a familiar grudge and, of course, vents her frustration through violence. The reveal of her motivation isn't terribly groundbreaking, but it fits okay with the twists that director Chris Hartwill is fashioning. Plus, it makes sense as to why she's such a tech-savvy poltergeist. It was all...ho-hum. Serviceable, but far from memorable.
Another point in the win column: Rachael Taylor. Granted, she was stultifying in Transformers and the absence of her character (and Anthony Anderson's) was one of the few saving graces of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Here she's legit, a strong female protagonist who's not just a cartoon character, vulnerable, bad-ass when needed and sexy.
Anchor Bay has a nice DVD, featuring a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and an active 5.1 Dolby surround mix. Two extras: an interview with writer Sven Hughes, and a lengthy making-of documentary.
Ghost Machine is a hit-and-miss affair. I'm landing more on the "miss," but it's close.
Maybe a hard reboot will help.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R