Urban Ghost Story (1998)
Director: Genevieve Jollife
Heather Ann Foster/Lizzie
A car crash. Teenage Lizzie dies (Foster) for 3 minutes and is brought back to life. Her friend, on the other hand, expires. After the ordeal, Liz not only has to deal with the guilt she feels over the mishap, but also has to cope with unsettling Poltergeists busting chops, social services that want to take her away from her mother and a group of parapsychologists invading her home. And then there’s Jason Connery’s shaggy chest making an appearance…yup, Lizzie is having a rough freaking month!
She died… She came back… Something followed…
"Urban Ghost Story" was a compelling watch from kick-off to touch-down. Surprisingly, it wasn’t its horror vibe that transfixed my retinas to the screen, it was the fine casting, characterizations and relationships at hand with the lead teenage Lizzie (superbly interpreted by Heather Ann Foster) being my drop to the bottom anchor of it all. Who knew?
There was a lot going on in this flick on a dramatic/cerebral level (maybe too much) and whether it was intended or not, I found myself experiencing the whole of it from Lizzie’s bleak point of view. This gal just couldn’t catch a break and I was backing her up the whole way: feeling her pain, anguish, confusion, loneliness and frustration in the process! Having a clear stance from which to perceive all of the conflicts/situations, resulted in the shenanigans hitting me hard-- even when the film would hit a faltering bump in its delivery. Talk about a safety net! Now although the supernatural occurrences found here acted more as devices to cleverly echo its lead’s distraught mental state than to go hardcore horror on us, that’s not to say that there wasn’t any terror on ice.
I pulled a couple of high soaring “Froggers” off my couch throughout this sit-down and appreciated the low-key, yet creepy as shit, scare tactics. Furniture moved and weird sounds occurred...that was the extent of the “horror” on this plate and I applaud director Joliffe for managing to give me the mucho willies with just that. That’s skill! Directorial flair also largely contributed to the emotional resonance of the picture by painting quite a sad world for us. I liked how she capitalized on the rundown settings to put out an oppressive aura of dread, offering some arresting stylish imagery in the process (that accident…wow) and expertly using sound/music to amplify Lizzie’s various poignant conditions. The lady was "on" and I swallowed it all like Paris Hilton aiming for Internet stardom.
Unfortunately, running at only 84 minutes, this fine film didn’t have enough time on its back to address its many subplots to their maximum effect. In consequence, some story angles felt rushed (the journalist’s character arc), other lost some juice along the way while the supernatural occurrences took too much of a back seat for my genre liking. Either this puppy needed a bigger clock to tick on (it felt like it got edited down) or a couple of subplots needed to be nixed out. The whole “lone shark” thang, for example -- featuring Billy Boyd acting tough because he’s wearing mommy’s stuff -- felt mostly unnecessary to me. That was one subplot too many.
All in all, I got a lot out of "Urban Ghost Story". This opus had a lot to say in little time, but in my book of “good stuff”, where it failed storytelling-wise via its “too all dressed” narrative, it more than made up for through its emotional vice grip. LISTEN TO THIS STORY!
Apart from light blood and Connery’s hairier-than-Sasquatch chest...we get diddley squat. The film is not about that jive.
Heather Ann Foster (Lizzie) was a revelation. She played it at just the right level and was incredibly credible. Stephanie Buttle (Kate) also came through in her intense performance. Jason Connery (John) was at his charismatic best where he played a selfish character, but I couldn’t help but like him anyway. Nicola Stapleton (Kerrie) was a cutie and believable as the strung-out friend. Billy Boyd as a “Lone Shark”? I didn’t buy it! The dude is a good actor, but he couldn’t scare a roach.
T & A
The ladies get Jason Connery shirtless and unfortunately, we also get Jason Connery shirtless. The man is a man-beast in the shag department! Like father, like son!
I either want to be Genevieve Joliffe or I want to marry her...not sure yet. The gal put out some striking imagery, powerful slow motion and used sound, music and silence to "up" the impact of specific moments like a pro! Good job! Let’s do lunch, Gen!
We get a smart use of an Opera tune, some well used techno and a stellar, sadness stricken score.
What a gloomy way to start the day! "Urban Ghost Story" could’ve almost been named "Urban Story" where its powerful dramatic content easily overshadowed its horror ingredients. Granted, the tale was a tad slapdash where subplots were plenty and we didn’t get enough time to delve into all of them to a satisfactory level, but thankfully the flick had an ace in its deck: its lead character of Lizzie and her plight. The gal acted as the emotional glue that kept the narrative together therefore keeping me highly engaged throughout. If you’re only about conventional genre-candy, skip this one, but if you crave heart and soul along with your chills sometimes, I suggest you give this story a try. Sometimes heart goes a long way and this is one of those times.
This flick was shot for around $350,000.
Rumor has it that the initial cut was 140 minutes. If that’s true…that explains a few things!