This is a spoiler-free review of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which hits theaters November 19.
Before the critics’ screening of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, director Jason Reitman delivered a video message: This is a movie about a family made by a family. That couldn’t be more true, and that’s what makes the latest entry in the Ghostbusters canon so special. Reitman also encouraged viewers to keep Afterlife’s secrets just that. Secret. He was there too, because this is the kind of movie that will amaze and inspire you if you let it. And in an age of reboots, remakes and renewals, it manages to balance that fine – and financially lucrative – line between pleasing fans of the original and creating something accessible to new audiences.
As you probably understood from the trailers, the story follows a single mom, Callie (Carrie Coon). Her life was defined by her father’s absence, and after his death she inherits his rural farm in Summerville, Oklahoma. So she picks up her life and two children, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and moves to the countryside. Their chemistry is the kind you rarely see in cinematic families. It’s the glue that holds the film together and teases one of its greatest strengths: brilliant casting. Coon is her usual electric self as a tormented mother of two unable to connect with her young insular daughter. Wolfhard shrugs his shoulders Strange things with an older and more confident classic big brother role. But Grace surpasses them both.
This is her movie. Phoebe is funny, weird and unabashedly herself. Just like her roles in The Haunting of Hill House, Captain Marvel, and Annabelle comes homeGrace is almost unnaturally observable. There is no affectation or attempt to mimic her on-screen grandfather (Harold Ramis’ Egon Spengler) mannerisms. Instead, Phoebe is her own kind of nerd, and she’s awesome. This is really a movie about this young girl who finds herself through an unexpected bond with her family, so it’s important for Grace to bear that weight well. That doesn’t mean this is a melodramatic family drama, though. If you were concerned that the trailers were a bit bricked, don’t worry. Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan have crafted a sassy, witty, well-paced and heartfelt script that constantly delights.
Another strong point is the close-knit cast of talented and unexpected actors. Bokeem Woodbine shows up as the local sheriff, and Paul Rudd is at his Paul Ruddiest (and yes, that’s very good) as Gary Grooberson, the local summer school teacher. There are also a few other new faces, but we won’t spoil those surprises. The real heart of the cast is the new young crew. Phoebe quickly befriends Podcast (Logan Kim), who is a breakthrough. A hilariously nuanced but well played role, the enthusiastic children’s podcaster is a joy to watch, and Kim proves herself as a new comedic talent. His scenes with Grace are some of the best in the movie and get some of the biggest laughs. They are joined by Trevor’s crush Lucky (Celeste O’Connor). Lucky is an adventurous, witty and generous friend who the crew desperately needs.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife Trailer #1 Pictures
From the moment the Summerville family walks in, it’s clear that something is up. Make no mistake, this is a Ghostbusters movie through and through, so supernatural shenanigans abound. Afterlife even nicely mirrors the first two films by starting with a major paranormal moment before setting the scene of the story. And that ghostly scare looks good. Many of the effects are practical, instead of computer animation, which is an exciting choice and fits the sun-kissed nostalgic summer look. There’s even a scene featuring an iconic Ghostbusters monster teased in the trailer that this reviewer believes was brought to life by an actual doll or at least partial animatronics… in 2021! What a time to be alive. That adventurous tone for the summer holidays is enhanced by the magical music of Rob Simonsen, which has a hint of John Williams influence and almost sparkles as Phoebe explores her new home and discovers its secrets.
Those secrets run deep and form the heart of the film. This is a movie about family, forgiveness and saving the world — but of course there are plenty of puzzles, mysteries and haunted mine shafts along the way. For example, Afterlife harks back to the era of The Goonies, but with a thoroughly modern twist. As the budding ghost hunters try to save their town and themselves, there are enough Easter eggs to make a grown man cry. But those who’ve never seen a Ghostbusters movie are still in for a really fun ride, filled with cool creature work, great action, and more.
Afterlife’s riotous third act will not only make the audience cry, but probably argue over a few key moments. For this reviewer, though, it’s all fully deserved. And make sure you stay for those after-credits scenes… yes, both. Trust us.