Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an attempt to reboot a franchise that began with the beloved 1984 cult horror-comedy Ghostbusters. A charming making-science-sexy, ode to nerds, the original soared as a result of the winning chemistry between leads Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis (with a script by Akroyd and Ramis), catapulting the three to overnight stardom.
And naturally, as is the case with most breakout Hollywood hits, what followed was a slew of tired sequels, animated series, console games and beyond. Not to mention director Paul Feig’s fun yet forgettable 2016 reboot with an all-female cast. I say that because I genuinely and sincerely forgot about its existence till this film.
What does make this latest attempt promising (at least on paper), is that it’s co-written and directed by Jason Reitman (Up In The Air, Juno, Thank You For Smoking), son of Ivan Reitman– the director of the original 1984 movie. The hope is, then, that, much like the plot of this film, ghostbusting runs in the family.
Watch Ghostbusters: Afterlife trailer
In its attempt to further the story for a new audience, Afterlife trades in the buzzy adult-nerds-in-New York setting of the original (and the 2016 reboot), for a kids-move-to-a-creepy-small-town template. It puts the future of the franchise in the hands of a new generation by following up the lovably dorky 80’s horror-comedy with a Stranger Things-style adventure story– which is probably why they cast Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard as one of the leads.
Afterlife is set in the modern-day, taking place 30 years after the events of the first movie, meaning most people seem to have forgotten what went down back then. “New York in the 80s was like The Walking Dead…but there hasn’t been a ghost sighting In 30 years,” we’re told. After being evicted, single mother Callie Spengler (a spirited Carrie Coon) and her two kids Trevor (Wolfhard) and child prodigy Phoebe (a movie-stealing Mckenna Grace) must move to a remote small town. After getting the news that her estranged father Egon Splanger (the original’s Harold Ramis) has died, Callie and the kids move into his secluded middle-of-nowhere house.
Following a series of strange earthquakes and mysterious happenings in the town, all centered around a creepy mountain, the kids gradually learn who their grandfather really was. When a new otherworldly evil arises, Phoebe, Trevor, and the gang must take up the ghostbusting mantle and rise to the challenge and kick some serious apparition ass. All with the help of some familiar gear, gadgets, and proton packs hidden around the house.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a movie that’s as conventional as they come, playing out pretty much exactly as you’d expect. Moment for moment, scene for scene, there are almost no surprises on offer here. With all the bare basic building blocks for a harmless big-screen adventure, it’s never not enjoyable, but nor is it ever particularly remarkable. While Reitman Jr trades in the scale and zaniness of the 1984 classic for a smaller family story, he doesn’t offer anything particularly specific or distinctive in return.
Luckily there’s enough by way of cutesy, endearing characters and humour infused into the proceedings (from writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman) to keep things pleasantly plodding along without getting too tedious. These include Phoebe’s conspiracy-theorist, mystery-hunting classmate who calls himself Podcast (an adorable Logan Kim). There’s also nerdy summer school teacher Gary Grooberson, played by the Sexiest Man Alive, Paul Rudd, who serves as a device to educate the kids about the exciting ectoplasm-filled exploits and legacy of their grandfather and the OG Ghostbusters. While Rudd is always enjoyable as the dorky, laid back man child, it was admittedly disappointing to see him in such a fleeting footnote of a role, especially with his newfound Avengers status.
But above all, it’s young Mckenna Grace who’s also, by all accounts, the saving Grace of Afterlife. She’s infinitely endearing with a scene-grabbing presence as the young genius trying to form human connections and make friends (not unlike her role in Marc Webb’s wonderful 2017 Chris Evans-starrer Gifted). McKenna is single-handedly responsible for most of the film’s best moments and serves as the only thing about any of this that makes the prospect of an inevitable sequel almost exciting. This makes it all the more frustrating that, for reasons unknown, the writers feel the need to throw in an unnecessary and lazy moment halfway through the film when Phoebe randomly explains her character to a friend. “I don’t exhibit emotions the way everyone else does.”
Conversely, the paranormal bad guys are far less compelling. Between a blink-and-miss JK Simmons dressed as Colonel Sanders and the big bad at the end played by a surprising actress dressed in a bad David Bowie get up, there’s not a single truly scary moment on screen. The triumph of Stranger Things was that it offered a genuinely chilling horror adventure led by kids, whereas this movie seems to be horror-lite aimed at kids.
Amidst all the sameness, however, there are some standout sequences, such as the first time Phoebe and co get behind the wheel of the iconic Ecto-1 to capture their first ghost. Or a fun Walmart scene which features a host of familiar fluffy faces. Not to mention all the charming cameos you’d expect and hope for.
Somewhere buried in the harmless, hollow blockbuster-ness of Ghostbusters: Afterlife is an earnest attempt to do right by this franchise, stay true to the spirit of the cult original and give it new life in a meaningful way. But it remains intention alone and just doesn’t translate across. The fact is that, surname aside, nothing of Jason Retiman’s previous eccentric-dramedy-filled body of work suggests that he was the right choice to present Ghostbusters to a new generation. I’m just not sure he was the right answer when the Hollywood execs behind closed doors were discussing who’d be best to helm a reboot and someone asked “Who you gonna call?”
Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace and Paul Rudd