By Alex McPherson
Shot entirely via iPhone, director Anthony Z. James’ “Ghost” is a thought-provoking exploration of fatherhood, redemption, violence, and how the past informs the present.
The film takes place during a single day and follows Tony Ward (Anthony Mark Streeter), an ex-con re-entering society after 10 years behind bars. Emerging into an unforgiving world that’s moved on without him, Tony attempts to mend fractured relationships, including with his son, Conor (Nathan Hamilton), and chart a new path forward for himself.
Conor is psychologically scarred by his father’s actions and the direction his own life took as a result, but still cares for him nevertheless. Both men are forced to confront whether they will be consumed by their demons or work to overcome them. When Tony’s old boss, Dominic (Russell Barnett), shows up, complications arise. Can Tony escape the world he left behind, or is history doomed to repeat itself?
Even though “Ghost” dips into familiar territory, James’ film is a refreshingly subdued affair, with a pair of intriguing central characters and a strong sense of place.
From the opening frames, it’s clear that Tony feels alienated in the working-class streets of London. Streeter’s nuanced performance expertly conveys Tony’s regret, grief, and determination to turn his life around. He’s prone to brashness, but remains sympathetic. Hamilton is similarly effective as Conor — a youthful individual full of potential, yet held back by his own impulsivity that likely stems from his troubled childhood. Their scenes together, combined with James’ restrained approach, are where the film absolutely shines.
Shooting via iPhone lends a gritty, tactile edge to the proceedings, giving the film a documentary-esque feel at times. “Ghost” is more focused on small-scale relationships than anything else, willing to take an unhurried pace to tell a story that feels grounded in plausibility. Overlooking some occasionally shoddy sound design and awkward camera placements, it’s difficult to imagine “Ghost” being presented any other way.
The majority of the film unfolds in prolonged conversations that feel true to life, for the most part — complete with awkward pauses and cinematography that creates a voyeuristic, fly-on-the-wall quality throughout. During other moments, James presents shots reflective of characters’ mental states. Tony, Conor, and Dominic are often framed against borders, both literal and figurative, that illustrate their difficulties connecting with the world around them, as well the internal conflicts they individually face.
Despite the film’s success in these areas, however, “Ghost” resorts to predictable beats by its conclusion. While I appreciate how James ratchets up tension in confrontations later on, these scenes betray the naturalistic approach utilized previously — sending the film down a bloody path of genre convention that feels forced rather than organic.
Additionally, James crams too much plot into a short time frame. Coming in at only 85 minutes, I wish that he had given these characters more time to grow, rather than trying to condense their journeys into a single day.
It’s also disappointing that the side characters surrounding Tony and Conor aren’t given much development. Conor’s ex-girlfriend, Kat (Severija Bielskyte), for example, is used primarily to demonstrate Conor’s misplaced anger, without being given an opportunity to leave much of an impression. Similarly, Tony’s ex-wife, Valerie (Emmy Happisburgh), only features prominently in a couple of scenes, and undergoes a rushed arc that defies believability. Heading into its suspenseful final act, Dominic also gets an exposition-dump-heavy subplot that’s too convoluted for its own good — albeit one that concludes in a darkly poetic fashion.
All in all, “Ghost” is worth recommending to viewers seeking a crime drama with a compelling relationship at its core. Although the final act lacks the finesse that came before, there’s much to enjoy in this promising debut.
“Ghost” is a 2020 film released last summer that is now available on Amazon Prime. Directed by Anthony Z. James and filmed entirely on an iPhone, the film runs 1 hour, 25 minutes. It starts Anthony Mark Streeter and Nathan Hamilton. Alex’s Rating: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.