This film was not what I expected it to be going into it, having read or seen little regarding the thing beforehand, and I have to say, much to the film’s credit. When I hear the words “Ghosthunter”, like many people, my mind immediately jumps to the American TV series; with all its silly camera tricks, night-vision-blair-witch-faces and set-up jump-scare fakery.
Ghosthunter is about a guy who does investigate ‘haunted locations’ precisely in this manner, however, this element of Western Sydney Security guard, Jason King’s life, only accounts for about five percent of this movie. The deeper story embedded in director Ben Lawrence’s documentary is about childhood abuse, trauma and suffering. I know, just a light-hearted afternoon flick, huh?
Not really. There’s enough in this movie to make most casual viewers completely sick in the guts. With a permanent facial scar from childhood, memory loss and trauma, Lawrence follows Jason King as he tries to find the whereabouts of his long-lost father.
Visiting haunted locations from his own past, King recounts disturbing memories from the milk bar which his father owned when he was a boy. Memories about young children passing through those doors at all hours, and the disturbed young Jason being shunned from going upstairs. The audience catches on faster than King himself, as the truth comes out, that his father is, in fact, a known child molester, being hunted by the police, who abused over ten young girls as young as seven or eight years old. Our sympathy follows King, at first, during his many awkward interviews with the director, where he reveals his inability to hold down a relationship, problematic friendships built on violence and poor luck – even to the point of having his house burn down. But a darker side of the protagonist comes out, as it is revealed he himself carries his own demons.
This is the sort of film which sullies and corrupts and drags us into a cesspool of unwanted empathy, and even the closing chapter leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether Jason King is a hero, anti-hero or villain.
The camera work is simple but effective from cinematographer Hugh Miller, and the bleak world of Western Sydney suburbs are brought to life in painful realism. As an interviewer, Lawrence clearly has those Louis Theroux or Jon Ronson style abilities to really get close to his subjects, and make them comfortable enough to reveal their innermost darknesses on camera.
There’s a lot to absorb here, and it’s not the sort of movie you can just walk out of without being affected. It’ll take a couple of soapy showers to get clean from this one, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a weak stomach. There’s nothing particularly graphic, in terms of violence or gruesome visual imagery; it’s all thematic and mental.
Ghosthunter is a challenging documentary, worth its own weight in grime. It’s a think-piece which analyses the cycle of abuse, redemption and the things which make us human. One has to commend the bravery of the victims who allowed themselves to be a part of the documentary, and it will have you shaking your fist wishing that they get their day of justice.
For lovers of the paranormal, you’re probably not going to get what you came for here. In fact, one of the most resonant parts of the movie is where Jason King helps a woman confront her fears of her own dark garage, by confirming there are absolutely no ghosts in there. A cathartic moment which does almost make the eccentric security guard’s life seem somehow validated.
If there’s one bit of respite, the viewer can rest assured they won’t come out of Ghosthunter as scarred as the film’s protagonist, whose lifelong facial disfigurement is only the surface wound of much deeper injuries, which will probably never truly heal.
The film features various real-life Australian news outlets reporting on various incidents, including of the arrest of Jason’s father, and his house burning down.
Deserted Island Movie Collection: Undoubtedly has to be the collected works of Arnold Grossman, in particular the 2015 film ‘The Boat Builder’ starring Christopher Lloyd.
Best Movie Snack: Roasted Coconut. Wait? Are we still on the deserted island?