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.

Review: ‘The Nest’ (2020), starring Jude Law and Carrie Coon

November 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Carrie Coon and Jude Law (center) in “The Nest” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Nest” (2020)

Directed by Sean Durkin

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1986 in the United Kingdom and briefly in New York state, the dramatic film “The Nest” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with a few Indians) representing the middle-class, working-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British businessman and his American wife experience upheavals in their marriage when they move from New York to England so that he can pursue his dream of starting his own consulting firm for commodities brokering.

Culture Audience: “The Nest” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted arthouse dramas that explore issues about marital relationships, social classes and how wealth is perceived as a status symbol.

Carrie Coon and Jude Law in “The Nest” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

On the surface, “The Nest” is a drama about an upwardly mobile married couple whose lives are frequently upended by the businessman husband’s restlessness to relocate when he finds new opportunities to make more money. Underneath the surface—and what becomes more apparent as the glossy sheen of their seemingly idyllic existence starts to wear off—”The Nest” is really about a power struggle within this marriage. Written and directed by Sean Durkin, “The Nest” features stellar performances from Jude Law and Carrie Coon as the couple at the center of this simmering turmoil and how these two spouses are forced to reckon with some messy and uncomfortable truths.

At the beginning of “The Nest,” which takes place in 1986, married couple Rory O’Hara (played by Law) and Allison O’Hara (played by Coon) seem to have a “perfect” life in New York state. Rory, who’s originally from England, works for a commodities brokerage firm. Allison, who’s a New York native, works for a place that does horse training. They both seem to be happily married and they live in a comfortably upper-middle-class suburban home with their two children: 10-year-old son Benjamin, nicknamed Ben (played by Charlie Shotwell) and daughter Samantha, nicknamed Sam (played by Oona Roche), who is about 16 or 17 years old.

Sam is Allison’s daughter from a previous relationship, so Rory is Sam’s stepfather. Sam calls Rory by his first name, instead of calling him her father. Sam’s biological father is not seen or mentioned in this story. Ben and Sam were both born in the United States and have never lived in another country before.

There are signs that perhaps because Sam is not Rory’s biological child, Rory doesn’t feel as close to Sam as he does to Ben. Rory is a very attentive father to Ben and will spend time doing things like playing soccer with Ben and his friends. That doesn’t mean that Sam is close to her mother either. Unlike the very obedient Ben, Sam is showing signs of teenage rebellion that will come out in a big way later in the story.

Rory is a very doting and loving husband and father overall, but there are some obvious indications that Rory wants to be a very dominant patriarch in this family. One day, Rory tells Allison that he thinks they should move back to his native England because he’s found an opportunity to make more money. Rory’s former boss/mentor Arthur Davis, who owns his own London-based commodities firm named Davis Trading, has offered Rory an opportunity to start his own consulting firm, with Arthur as the primary investor.

But first, Arthur wants Rory to come back to working for Davis Trading so that Arthur (who is nearing retirement age) can be reassured that he will be making the right investment when Rory is ready to strike out on his own. Allison is very reluctant to move because the family has relocated four times in the past 10 years, and where they are currently living in New York state is close to where Allison’s parents live. However, Rory tells Allison: “Things have dried up here … This is a chance to make some real money again.”

Throughout the movie, viewers will see a pattern to Rory’s overly confident sales skills: He manipulates people into thinking that they’re less-than-smart if they don’t go along with his ideas. He plays into people’s “fear of missing out” on a great opportunity, even if deep down he isn’t sure himself if what he’s selling is worthwhile. Rory likes to take risks, which can be an asset in his line of work. But he doesn’t always investigate all the pros and cons of taking that risk. And that short-sightedness can be a detriment to his line of work.

Allison eventually agrees to Rory’s plan because he makes her think that she’s not “visionary” enough if she can’t see that he should seize this opportunity that he wants to give their family more wealth. He also sells her on the idea to move because he tells her that he will be making enough money for her to eventually have her own horse-training business. The children have no choice but to accept their parents’ decision to move to England. They’re not thrilled about it but they’re not upset to the point where anyone is throwing tantrums or having crying fits.

Before they move to England, there’s a very telling scene where Allison spends time at her parents’ home. Allison and her mother (played by Wendy Crewson) have a prickly relationship where they don’t really get along with each other, but they still love each other. Allison is almost sad to be leaving behind her parents to move to England, but she doesn’t really want to admit it too much.

Allison confides in her mother (who doesn’t have a name in the movie) about how she feels about this sudden move to England: “Something doesn’t feel right, Mom.” Allison’s mother replies, “It’s not your job to worry. You leave that to your husband.” Allison responds, “It scares me that you actually think that … I’m not the difficult one here.”

Although the “husband always knows best” mentality is not one that Allison is willing to always believe in theory, it becomes clear that in reality, her marriage has become a manifestation of that belief, whether she likes it or not. Rory has always been the one to decide their financial destiny and when and where they are going to move. He’s the type of husband who insists that he will take care of paying the bills and the wife doesn’t need to know all the details.

In essence, Allison has given Rory a lot of power and trust in their financial future. But this move to England will open her eyes in more ways than one. At first, the move to England goes smoothly. The children seem to quickly get over their fear and sadness about leaving their previous life behind and starting over in a new country when they see the stately (yet slightly shabby) centuries-old mansion that Rory has rented for the family. Rory signed a one-year lease with the option to own.

The mansion is in Surrey, about 30 miles from London: close enough to commute but far enough from the crime and noise of a big city. Allison thinks the mansion is too big for their family, but Rory reassures her that they can afford it. It’s another sign that Allison lets Rory make big decisions without her, since it’s obvious that he signed the lease on the home without even discussing it with Allison first.

The mansion needs some remodeling, but Rory assures Allison that they can afford whatever needs to be done. And best of all for Allison, the mansion has a farm that’s large enough for her beloved horse Richmond. Rory has thoughtfully paid to have the horse shipped from the United States to the family’s new home in England. Rory has also enrolled the children in the best private schools he could find in the area, and he doesn’t make them forget it.

At work, Arthur (played by Michael Culkin) treats Rory like a wayward son who has come back to the fold. Rory and Arthur have some discussions about how working in America has changed Rory to think of bigger and better possibilities. Since Rory achieved the American Dream when he lived in the United States, he tells Arthur that what he learned from that experience can only be an asset to Davis Trading, which Rory believes might be stuck in an old and stodgy British way of thinking.

Rory is eager to impress everyone around him by giving off airs of being a wealthy and successful businessman. Rory has a tendency to boast about his accomplishments and how wealthy he supposedly is. Rory tells Arthur and some business colleagues that he and Allison are keeping a penthouse in New York, and they might get a pied-à-terre in London’s Mayfair district, in addition to the mansion they have in Surrey. Rory also tends to name-drop a lot and very much wants to be considered one of England’s elite businessman.

There are signs that Allison isn’t completely comfortable with the snooty social circles that Rory wants to be a part of, now that he’s working with Arthur again. At a formal dinner party at a grand estate, Arthur’s socialite wife Patricia (played by Annabel Leventon) introduces Rory and Allison as “Mr. and Mrs. Rory O’Hara.” Allison makes a point of telling her that she would like to be introduced as Allison, not as “Mrs. Rory O’Hara.” Later, when Rory and Allison are at their home, Allison tells Roy that things were much easier in America because they could be more relaxed in social settings, compared to their new lifestyle in Great Britain.

Rory didn’t come back to work for Davis Trading to do boring, small-time deals. He tells Arthur that he’s found a Chicago-based firm that wants to merge with a London-based firm. Rory insists that this firm is a great match for Davis Trading and that it’s time for Arthur to sell the company. It would mean that most of Davis Trading employees will be laid off when the American firm takes over, but Rory doesn’t care because he’s already figured out that his commission for brokering this deal will make him very rich.

Arthur agrees to look over the details of this deal. And later, he tells Rory that he’ll probably do the merger as Rory suggested. Plans are set in motion, and Rory is eager to celebrate. He tells a reliable co-worker named Steve (played by Adeel Akhtar), who is his closest confidant at the firm, about this great news.

But at home, things aren’t so great. The cracks in Rory’s façade begin to show when Allison finds out that the contract workers hired to do remodeling on the family’s new home are refusing to do any more work unless they are paid for the work that they already did. Through a phone conversation with the workers’ supervisor, Allison discovers that Rory paid by a check that bounced, and Rory didn’t follow through on his promise to make things right by paying the workers with a legitimate check. Allison gets even more of a shock when she contacts the bank and finds out that she and Rory only have £600 in their joint account.

When Allison confronts Rory, she’s understandably furious. He reassures her that their financial problems will go away because he’s expecting a huge payday. He doesn’t tell her the details, but he insists that she shouldn’t worry. For a while, Allison is part of this denial state of mind too. Her children hear Allison and Rory arguing, but Allison keeps denying that anything is wrong when the kids (especially sensitive and intuitive Ben) ask her to tell her what’s wrong.

As the weeks stretch on and Rory’s big payday keeps getting delayed, the tensions mount in Allison and Rory’s marriage. It reaches a point where he has to ask her to loan him some money from a secret stash of cash that Allison has for emergencies. Allison has lost so much trust in Rory that when she goes to retrieve the cash, she makes him wait in the hallway so he won’t be able to see where she’s hidden it.

One of the best scenes in the movie is shortly after Rory has told Allison that she has nothing to worry about after she discovers they only have £600 in their joint bank account. They go out to a fancy restaurant and she tests him by saying that if they have nothing to worry about, then she can order whatever she wants on the menu. She proceeds to order some high-priced items before Rory stops her. The looks on their faces say it all: Allison is disgusted, Rory is exposed for being a liar, and Allison has now decided she wants more control in this marriage.

The remainder of “The Nest” shows exactly what happens when this marriage becomes a power struggle between someone who wants to continue to live in a fantasy world and someone who wants to deal with reality. Rory’s family background is also revealed, and it explains why he acts the way that he does and why his self-esteem is so wrapped up in becoming rich. And caught in the crossfire are the children Sam and Ben and even Allison’s horse Richmond.

Through it all, Law and Coon give absolutely impressive and realistic performances as people who have to deal with the false public image they put forth to the world versus the harsh reality of who they truly are. Durkin’s solid direction and engaging screenplay are the spark match to this slow-burn movie, but Law’s and Coon’s performances are what give this movie its real fire. The moody cinematography by Mátyás Erdély is also used to great emotional effect, particularly with the darkly lit Surrey mansion, which is a reflection of the shadowy secrets that this family wants to keep. Even though “The Nest” is set in the 1980s, it’s a cautionary tale that is timeless and relevant as long as people commit desperate acts of deception.

IFC Films released “The Nest” in select U.S. cinemas on September 18, 2020, and on digital and VOD on November 17, 2020.