Three best friends are homebound and ready to spend summer vacation in a cool new, secret underground fort they’ve dug at the local cemetery. Each of these kids carries a heavy burden. One is being molested, the other beaten – and Timmy (played by Nolan Gould of Modern Family) just lost his grandfather to a heart attack. And as bad as that all is, its about to get a hell of a lot worse.
That’s the skeleton to Brian Keene’s Ghoul, the latest book adaptation by Moderncine (Offspring, The Woman) and more specifically a lot of the team that brought you The Girl Next Door. Directed by Greg Wilson and penned for the screen by William M. Miller, it was specially crafted for a cable horror run on the Chiller network – and will be making its debut there on April 13, 2012.
If you’re not familiar with the bulk of Brian Keene’s novel, this is a story about kids. Make no mistake – you’ll spend 90% of your time with kids, and if The Girl Next Door made you think of Stand By Me, this will even more. But the subject matter here is adult. Very adult, and domestically black. Timmy is grieving after losing a grandfather who was very close to him. Doug (Jacob Bila) has to fight off his drunken mother at night, and admits to his best friend that his she molests him on a regular basis. Barry (Trevor Harker) must deal with the beatings dished out to him and his mother, from an angry, drunken and abusive father, Clark, who also runs the cemetery.
Those who have read the novel know that there is a story behind Clark’s unrest and inner torment – and this is where Brian Keene’s Ghoul and Greg Wilson’s Ghoul will branch off in different directions. While the bulk of the plot from start to finish is about the same, it would be inaccurate to label this a “strict” adaptation, as certain elements and fluids have been changed. I will leave it for faithful to decide if this is good or not, but if nothing else, it gives fans of the novel a new mysterious direction to look forward to.
To give any more away would rob this movie of the tale is stands to tell, and Ghoul has a lot to say. Aside from the fact that “the ghoul” ties this story together and gives this feature its adhesion, it could almost exist without it – as the bulk of Ghoul is a coming-of-age horror story infected deeply by the domestic hells these young characters are dealing with. Sometimes it feels a bit heavy on the After School Special material, but put within the context of what this is – a made-for-TV movie – it has an unusually rich plot and very deep, well-played characters to build upon. Everyone involved on the acting side, especially Barry Corbin (No Country For Old Men) as Timmy’s grandfather, make an otherwise over-dysfunctional drama work. The overall ghoul violence is few and far between, but when it goes down, FX artist Anthony Pepe delivers some respectably inferred violence and gore for what could be allowed.
As so often explored by Moderncine creations such as The Girl Net Door, Offspring, or The Woman – what worse beast is there, than man? Genre crawlers looking to see a corpse eating beast or rape scenes in the tunnels beneath the graveyard should take note – this is not a hard-R film. This is an above-par PG style production from top to bottom – and it raises the bar for what should be expected from the cable-destined horror-feature scene, whose reputation SyFy has smeared with piss poor, Asylum-like productions. With children engaging problems that would traumatize adults, and an acoustically driven soundtrack by Sean Spillane, Ghoul feels very much like a less offensive version of something between The Woman and The Girl Next Door. Brian Keene’s Ghoul may not be the visceral Ketchum-type pummeling some have come to expect from a Moderncine production, but it stands among them no less their sibling as it furthers their ever widening reputation for premium adaptations from the horror section of your local book store.