For a miniscule budget of $10,000, H.P. Mendoza’s I Am a Ghost sure packs a punch. This is independent horror at its finest, feeling entirely new and refreshing yet stylistically reminiscent of classic Kubrick. It’s a film that will get under your skin and stay with you long after the credits are through.
The film opens on Emily, and we follow her as she pursues her tedious daily tasks alone in a large Victorian style house. We watch her in relative silence – there’s no dialogue, and little sound in these first fifteen minutes. Though her actions are mundane, it’s clear that something is off. Emily’s quiet routine is finally broken when the disembodied voice of Sylvia speaks to her in her mother’s bedroom – Sylvia is a clairvoyant, hired to help Emily move on by the family currently living in the house. This is a family, however, that you never see, because this film is entirely from the perspective of the ghost, Emily. Sylvia is having a harder time than usual trying to get this ghost to move on, and the two work together to uncover whatever it is that’s preventing Emily from leaving the house.
I Am a Ghost is the very definition of slow burn horror. Much of the film is spent with Emily going through her daily rituals while trying to uncover the truth. She’s not initially aware of what she is. The story reveals itself at a snail’s pace, and the questions begin to pile up long before any answers are provided. It’s less monotonous that you would think; Emily’s tasks are repeated in random order and subtle, creepy moments are layered in. Scenes that have played over multiple times, such as Emily cleaning near a spiral staircase, are altered with small, chilling changes. These changes, be they a creepy voice that wasn’t there before, or Emily’s behavior briefly turning sinister in previously familiar scenes, both creates a sense of mounting dread, and keeps the story from stalling out in monotony.
The sense that something isn’t quite right grows into anxiety, the tension becomes palpable – the more Emily remembers about her past, the more I found myself holding my breath. The tension coils tighter and tighter until a twist about Emily’s past is revealed. It sends her into a tailspin that verges on madness as she watches her own memories unfold. The slow build tension finally pays off, and the movie is transformed into unsettling, chaotic horror.
Anna Ashida, who plays Emily, has a tough job. Spending nearly the entire film alone, Anna has to work that much harder to keep audiences invested in Emily’s story. It can’t be easy emoting to walls and disembodied voices with little dialogue, especially if that disembodied voice sounds more like someone just practicing lines with Anna, rather than the concerned medium Syliva is supposed to be. It’s a minor nuisance, considering Emily and Sylvia’s conversations are what provide the most forward motion for the story.
If you’re the type that needs everything answered and wrapped up in a bow, however, this film may not be for you. The time period of the film isn’t quite clear; it is shot in a 70s style, yet everything looks more Victorian. Being that Emily is a ghost, it’s never revealed how long ago she died. I suppose this doesn’t matter much in the story, but it did leave me wondering if there was something more to H.P. Mendoza’s stylistic choices. Also, the intense finale will leave you with some intriguing questions.
I Am a Ghost is a film that will unnerve you and leave you unsure how to feel after it’s reached its conclusion. Thematically and stylistically, Mendoza makes some ballsy choices. The camera angles are purposeful to the atmosphere and story, if a bit jarring at times. The overall theme of being trapped in one’s own memories contributes to the haunting feel. A slow burn horror that’s essentially a one woman show, for the most part, will probably alienate most audiences with its pacing and minimal design. The small budget, raised via Kickstarter, might be off-putting for some, as well. The story and tension are well worth it, and viewers who stick with it will be rewarded.
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate.