Ever since the Iron Curtain was lifted all those years ago, it’s scary hearing some of the stuff that went on in the Soviet States. I’m not talking about the regime (which was plenty scary), I’m talking about their own social incidents like serial killers: Anatoly Onoprienko, Gennady Mikhasevich, and of course, Andrei Chikatilo. Chikatilo, aka the Butcher of Rostov, was executed in 1994 after years of murdering and raping 52 women and children (though he claimed to have committed more than that). It’s always treading a fine line when you create and base a film on a person’s crimes, but Czech writer/director Petr Jákl has taken a swing with his film, Ghoul.
A trio of American documentarians with their local translator travel to a Ukranian village to shoot the first episode of a proposed documentary series on the cannibalism epidemic that swept through the country during the famine of 1932. Eventually, the group manages to interview a man named Boris Glaskov, who was convicted of killing a co-worker and eating him. Boris agrees to take the crew to the farmhouse where he committed the deed. Cameras are set up around the farmhouse to capture any creepy happenings. Boris suddenly disappears, and the group finds a strange carving of a pentagram/Ouija board on a table. After messing around with the board, the group unknowingly summons the spirit of Andrei Chikatilo, who begins possessing individual crewmembers, goading them into eating one another.
As you’ve probably guessed, the film borrows heavily from The Blair Witch Project, but there are attempts to try and carve out some creepy vibes, starting with the location photography. Jákl was able to film in a Ukrainian village, as well as grab some of the older locals for some of the “interviews”, which added to the feeling of authenticity. And while there are plenty of the predictable shaky-cam shots, there are also a couple of dynamic shots that director of photography Jan Šuster make count. I know, this flies in the face of the “found footage” motif, but we’re being honest here.
As far as the acting goes, Jennifer Armour stood out from the bunch. While she wasn’t obsessed with the documentary as Heather Donahue was in The Blair Witch (that position goes to Paul S. Tracey’s Ryan), having the most acting experience of the cast translated into one of the more convincing performances. On a whole, however, it was difficult to identify with the characters, as they spent more time bickering amongst themselves instead of using opportunities to escape their situation. Predictably, they end up paying for it, and we as the audience turn on them. Something I don’t think was intended.
You’re probably wondering how Chikatilo factors into this film. Frustratingly, it looks as if Jákl simply threw Chikatilo’s name into this along with several other ideas and put it up against a Blair Witch backdrop. Really, Chikatilo barely has any connection to the Ukrainian 1930’s famine other than being born in 1936. The film relies on nothing more than picking and choosing depending on the scene what it wants to use, and as a result there’s no cohesiveness. Further frustrating is the above-mentioned use of editing found footage from a variety of cameras, which defeats the entire idea of this being a documentary that was seemingly found in the Ukraine! Ghoul also falls back on the use of quick scares that do nothing to stimulate the tension, and off-screen violence that further betrays the whole use of cannibalism. Again, if you’re going to life ideas from anywhere and everywhere, use them and use them coherently!
Despite it being a hit in it’s native Czech Republic, Ghoul fails at being nothing more than a rip-off of the films that have come before it (and have done it MUCH better). The idea of using Andrei Chikatilo is wasted, lost in this mire of other wasted ideas that could’ve been used so much more effectively to create a creepy experience. You’d be better left to watching The Blair Witch Project again (how many times have I suggested that in the past when it comes to these types of films?). Or, if you’d keen on seeing a film with Andrei Chikatilo better utilized, go check out 2004’s Evilenko or wait for Daniel Espinosa’s Child 44.