By Afra Nariman
*** This British film has released in the UK, but is coming soon to Amazon Prime Video (US). I got the privilege to get an early viewing of the film in order to give it a review. Keep your eyes open for when it officially gets its US release!***
Directed by: Anthony Z. James
Stars: Anthony Mark Streeter, Nathan Hamilton, Russell Barnett
On his first day released from Prison, a man seeks to reconnect with his son, before his violent past catches up with him.
In his feature film debut as a writer/director, Anthony Z. James has delivered a good story with a magnificent low-budget production. The main storyline follows Tony, a man who has just been released from a prison sentence, and his son, Conor, as they spend the day reconnecting and getting to know each other after years of separation. The film explores the negative effects of having a father in prison for much of your adolescence.
What makes this film so impressive, is that it was shot on an iPhone! It begins with minutes that lack dialogue, allowing us to observe the two characters and make our own judgements of them before we get to formerly meet them. Accompanying these minutes, is music that peaks our curiosity. The overall choice of music and its placement in the film was done elegantly and feeds well into the film’s pace and mood. The music orchestrates our curiosity and rising interest in certain moments. Although shot on an iPhone, they were able to juice every ounce of potential from that phone. Through the use of naturalistic sounds of the film’s environment, such as birds chirping, runners jogging, and cars driving, among other things, they used the film’s setting to its full capability, adding to the film’s backdrop. Additionally, they used extremely creative camera angles to create mosaic and stylized shots. Although limited by a phone, the film’s camera shots are remarkably fluid and rarely cut when not needed.
The story is incredibly intriguing as well. The plot is simple, but immediately hooks our attention. It tells the story of a father and son dynamic who’s relationship together has been interrupted by the father’s prison time. The early conversations between them are rightfully awkward, as they haven’t interacted like this since Conor was very young. But as the day goes on and they get to know one another better, becoming more comfortable with each other, their conversations begin to have more substance to them. The way the story is told has an element of intimacy to it as well; especially because many of the scenes are void of any crowds. At times there are individuals who pass by, such as joggers; but all together, every scene is fully focused on the dynamic of whichever characters are on screen at the time. The lack of crowds may likely be due to their low budget, but either way, it bodes exceptionally well for the film’s level of intimacy, especially in the scenes that exclusively include Tony and Conor.
At one point in the film, in an emotional moment with his girlfriend, Conor admits how hard it is to become reacquainted with his father, after so many years of separation.
There aren’t too many emotional peaks in the film, as the film only depicts the events of a single day; but when there are peaks, they usually reveal an important transition in the film’s aura, or mood. Ghost also never gets too heavy; it keeps a naturalistic tone with some light comedy sprinkled throughout. The dialogue is genuine and the writing is clever at times, but stagnant at others. Some scenes feel slightly segmented. In some cases, there is not enough build up for the peaks. It isn’t perfect, but James directs the film with a style that helps cloak the film’s segmented intervals.
Ghost is not entirely one dimensional, as there are side-stories to the main plot. Perhaps, the film may have benefited from exploring the dynamic with Conor’s mother for a bit longer than the brief time she had on screen, or from delving deeper into Conor’s complicated relationship with his girlfriend. Nevertheless, the film did a solid job at portraying a single day’s events, which is not an easy feat. One-day films are difficult to organize, but when done well, come off as authentic and believable. So much is rightfully left unresolved in this film; a conclusion is not forced, but with a momentous and exciting finish, it leaves you satisfied.
Ghost explores the concepts of regret and family, and highlights the plight of losing a father to prison for much of a child’s upbringing. Although choppy and segmented during a few intervals of the film, the story progresses naturally overall. The best thing about the film is the fact that they were able to create something so optically pleasing with an iPhone. The film’s use of its setting and environment to beef up the camera shots is done gracefully. Anthony Z. James’ debut as a writer/director clearly showcases the joy of movie-making and storytelling. Ghost is a lively example of independent filmmaking in 2020, where a low budget won’t cripple you so much if you have the right people behind the camera (or iPhone). This is an exciting first step in the right direction for James as a filmmaker. This film is definitely worth the watch.