Review: ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife,’ starring Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor

October 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celeste O’Connor, Finn Wolfhard, Logan Kim and McKenna Grace in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Summerville, Oklahoma, and briefly in Chicago and New York City, the comedic horror film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: The daughter and grandchildren of the late Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) move to the isolated home in Summerville that they inherited from him, and they immediately have supernatural encounters with deadly entitities. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Ghostbusters” fans, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” will appeal primarily to fans of people who like well-paced adventurous films that combine horror with comedy that’s suitable for most children over the age of 6.

Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a “Ghostbusters” fan’s dream come true. The movie delivers almost everything that diehard fans of the franchise might want to see in a sequel. It also respects all the things that fans loved about the original “Ghostbusters” movie while introducing an exciting new storyline and appealing new characters. It’s the type of movie that is sure to win over legions of new fans to the franchise, which experienced some controversy and mixed-to-negative reviews from fans for the divisive, female-starring 2016 “Ghosbusters” reboot that was directed and co-written by Paul Feig.

Ivan Reitman, who directed 1984’s “Ghostbusters” and 1989’s “Ghostbusters II,” has been a producer of all “Ghostbusters” movies so far. For “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” he handed over the directorial duties to his son Jason Reitman, who co-wrote the “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” screenplay with Gil Kenan, a filmmaker who’s a self-professed “Ghostbusters” superfan. The result is what happens when you put true fans in charge of making a sequel to a beloved classic about ghost hunters who call themselves Ghostbusters: You give the fans what they really want. And that’s probably why “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” had its first public screening at the 2021 edition of New York Comic Con at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. After a “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” discussion panel that featured Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman, Kenan and members of the movie’s cast, people who were in attendance got a surprise treat when the entire film was shown after the panel ended.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” the daughter and two grandchildren of Dr. Egon Spengler (an original Ghostbuster) are at the center of the story when they find themselves involved in the same work that Egon did as a Ghostbuster in New York City. Egon was portrayed by Harold Ramis (who died of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis in 2014, at the age of 69), whose presence is definitely felt in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” Ramis was also a co-writer on the 1984 “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II.” When watching “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” fans will notice all the homages paid to these first two “Ghostbusters” movies.

Egon’s divorced daughter Callie (played by Carrie Coon), who was estranged from Egon for most of her life due to his workaholic ways, is having financial problems. It’s reached a point where Callie and her two kids, who all live in a Chicago apartment, have gotten an eviction notice from their landlord. Callie’s ex-husband, who is not seen in the movie, is not involved in raising the children. Later in the movie, Callie describes her ex-husband as a “dirtbag,” in order to leave no doubt that she doesn’t want him in her life anymore.

Instead of waiting to be evicted, Callie decides to take herself and her two kids—brainy 12-year-old Phoebe (played by Mckenna Grace) and socially awkward 15-year-old Trevor (played by Finn Wolfhard)—to the fictional small town of Summerville, Oklahoma, where Egon lived as a recluse until he died about a week before this story takes place. Even though Callie had not seen or spoken to her father in years, she inherited his run-down home. She decides to go there in person with her kids to see what to make of the place and to try to escape from her financial woes.

Egon’s home is a cluttered and dirty farmhouse located in an isolated area filled with corn fields and tall grass. Trevor quips when he looks at the dumpy condition of the house: “This is so much worse than I thought it would be.” Callie tells her children that they only plan to stay for a week while she gets some of Egon’s estate affairs in order. But there would be no “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” movie if that turned out to be true.

Before Callie, Phoebe and Trevor even arrived in Summerville, the movie shows that strange and spirits and creatures were inhabiting the area. And these sinister beings don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. There’s also an abandoned mine that was owned by the Shemdor Mining Company that plays a large role in explaining the mystery behind this story.

The mine used to be a big source of the town’s economy, but the mine was shut down years ago by the U.S. Air Force, because miners began leaping to their death in the mine shafts. Why did the U.S. Air Force get involved? It’s all explained in the movie, but viewers can figure it out as soon they hear that the U.S. Air Force and other military and federal law enforcement have had an interest in Summerville.

After Callie, Trevor and Phoebe arrive in Summerville, they find out that Egon wasn’t very well-liked by the locals, who gave him the unflattering nickname Dirt Farmer. Egon kept mostly to himself, and when he did interact with people, he was often gruff or aloof. Trevor and Phoebe never knew their grandfather Egon, but Phoebe seems more fascinated by Egon than Trevor is. During the course of the movie, viewers will see that Phoebe also inherited a lot of Egon’s analytical and personality traits. While Phoebe is very scientific-minded, Trevor is the more artistic sibling, because he is interested in filmmaking.

Callie already knows that Egon’s house is worthless. But to her dismay, she finds out that her estranged father left behind a lot of debts that she’s now responsible for paying, since she is his only heir. She tries to hide these problems from the children, but they are intuitive and are smart enough to figure out that things aren’t going so well for their family and they will be in Summerville for a while, since they have nowhere else to live rent-free.

Summerville is a quaint small town that has some characteristics of a bygone era. For example, Summerville has a drive-in diner called Spinners Roller Hop that has roller-skating servers. One of these servers is a teenager named Lucky (played by Celeste O’Connor), who immediately catches Trevor’s eye when he and his family eat at the diner one day. It’s attraction at first sight for Trevor.

Trevor is so infatuated with Lucky that he gets a job as a dishwasher at Spinners Roller Hop, in order to get to know her better. Trevor lies about his age (he says he’s 17) so that he can get the job. Callie takes a while to warm up to Trevor, and their possible romance is hinted at and teased throughout the movie. Later in the movie, Trevor does a lot of driving of a certain vehicle that “Ghostbusters” fans know and love, even though he’s not old enough to have a driver’s license.

Trevor and Callie also meet a precocious kid who’s about 12 or 13 years old. He calls himself Podcast (played by Logan Kim), because he has his own podcast where he likes to think of himself as an investigative journalist and historian for Summerville. Podcast is naturally inquisitive, and he quickly befriends Trevor and Callie. Podcast constantly carries around audio equipment with him, so he can be ready to record anything newsworthy. He’s also an aspiring paranormal investigator. How convenient.

Summerville is the type of town that doesn’t have many cops, but there are enough police officers who eventually notice some of the shenanigans that Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast get up to around town. Summerville’s Sheriff Domingo (played by Bokeem Woodbine) just happens to be Lucky’s father. Lucky ends up joining Trevor, Phoebe and Podcast in their ghostbusting activities when things get really dangerous.

Trevor isn’t the only family member to meet a potential love interest in Summerville. Carrie begins dating a seismologist named Gary Grooberson (played by Paul Rudd), who teaches at the local high school. Gary, who is a middle-aged bachelor with no children, is a little bit of a goofball nerd who would rather be a full-time scientist than be a teacher to help pay his bills. He’s so bored with teaching that one of the movie’s first scenes of Gary has him using a VCR and TV monitor in his classroom, to show old horror movies such as “Cujo (on VHS tape) to his students, as a way of babysitting them while he does other things that interest him.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is a feast of references to the first “Ghostbusters” without copying any previous “Ghostbusters” plot. Is there anyone from the previous “Ghostbusters” movies who is in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”? That information won’t be revealed in this review, although that information has already been leaked on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and other places where people can find out the details if they really want to know. Any “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” cameos from original “Ghostbusters” cast members also have updates on what their “Ghostbusters” characters have been up to since the 1990s.

It’s not just people from the first “Ghostbusters” movie that might or might not make a re-appearance. Don’t be surprised to see any ghosts, demons and monsters that look familiar. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” also has done something hilarious and clever with the Stay Puft marshmallow presence in the movie. The visual effects for “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” are well-done and bring chills and laughs in all the right ways.

The filmmakers of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” understand that all the visual effects and scary creatures in the world wouldn’t make this movie succeed. People have to root for the main characters. And the movie delivers on featuring characters that are relatable yet find themselves in extraordinary situations. It’s a well-cast movie where all of these talented actors inhabit their character roles with a great deal of believability, even when extraordinary things are happening to their characters on screen.

In “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” Phoebe is portrayed as the smartest and most fearless hero of the movie, which is undoubtedly a star-making turn for Grace. Phoebe is serious about science, but she also likes to tell jokes that she knows are corny. For example, one of the jokes is: “What do a cigarette and a hamster have in common? They’re both completely harmless until you stick one in your mouth and light it on fire.”

Wolfhard also does a very credible job as Trevor, who can be adventurous or nervous, depending on the situation. Kim’s portrayal of Podcast is of someone who is endlessly curious, but he’s not a brat, which is what this character could have been but thankfully is not. Coon’s portrayal of Callie is of a concerned mother who’s trying to hold her family life together, even when things are starting to fall apart. Gary is smitten with Callie, so this infatuation is used for some lighthearted jokes in the movie.

Because “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” focuses most of the story on the adolescent characters, some people might say that the movie is trying to be like the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” which also co-stars Wolfhard. But make no mistake: This is a “Ghostbusters” movie in every way. It has comedy, scary thrills and plenty of adventure and mystery that all harken back to the original “Ghostbusters,” but told from young people’s perspectives. That doesn’t mean the adult characters are sidelined in the movie, but they really are supporting characters who don’t get involved in the action until it’s absolutely necessary.

“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” is escapist entertainment, but the movie also has some tearjerking, poignant moments, especially in the final scenes. Stick around for the mid-credits and end-credits scenes too, which will further delight fans of the original “Ghostbusters” movie. Even if people don’t see these credits scenes, it should come as no surprise that “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” already telegraphs that this film is not the end of the “Ghostbusters” movie series.

Columbia Pictures will release “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021.