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Ghosts are wankers: “The Disappeared”

October 15, 2012

You know who really annoy me? Ghosts. Ghosts really annoy me. Not all ghosts, mind you—I’m not some kind of bigot—just the cryptic, passive-aggressive ones in supernatural thrillers. You know the type: they write on walls in blood or they cause disturbing dreams or flashbacks to a highly specific episode which, invariably, reveals that their untimely death was actually…MURDER!!! Yeah, and then they expect the poor bastard on the receiving end of this torment to solve their murder, presumably, to see justice done and the departed soul given peace (mostly, though, I think people do it so they can get a decent night’s sleep). I mean, how self-centered is that? I don’t like asking people for a ride to work, but these soul figure that some random dude should just drop everything and solve their murder. Hey, thanks, spirit, like I got nothing better to do here. Stir of Echoes, Mirrors, The Eye, and the various direct-to-DVD sequels to those movies all feature wanker-ghosts of this stripe. To that list, you can add the one at the center of The Disappeared.

The Disappeared is another one of those “normal guy freaks out and thinks he sees ghosts” movies like the ones above. Only in this case, the guy isn’t all that normal. Teenager, Matthew Ryan (played by some British dude that IMDB doesn’t even have a picture of) is just home from a prolonged stay at a mental hospital following the disappearance of his younger brother Tom. He isn’t exactly returning home into the welcoming arms of loving family though. His mother split, and his father is an abusive, frequently-unemployed drunk who blames Matthew for his brother’s disappearance. So, Matthew’s not all that tightly wrapped from the get go, let alone once the oooga-booga starts.

It begins when Matthew watches an old videotape of a news interview with his father the night Tom disappeared, and he thinks he hears Tom whispering in the background. Initially it just seems like Matthew is torturing himself—consciously or otherwise—but, faster than you can say White Noise all sorts of other weird stuff bedevils poor Matthew: he has terrifying dreams of crosses, Tom’s favorite toy rolls out from under the bed, he has dream/flashbacks to being buried alive…you know, the usual creatively-bankrupt shenanigans.

So, um what else happens? Ah, Matthew is bullied by some teenagers on bikes…no, not motorcycles, bicycles. Apparently that institution didn’t have a weight room, because Matthew didn’t exactly come out of the place transformed into Max Cady. Oh, and he’s aided in his quest to unravel the mystery of weird-ass-shit by a cute blonde chick named Amy who seems to dig him. You know, if you’re gonna struggle against supernatural elements/your crumbling sanity there are worse allies to have.

So, this crap continues. You know how it works: Matthew sees something terrifying, the music crashes—cut!–and it never happened. A little of that goes a long way. A movie comprised almost solely of it made my brain loll listlessly like a lizard on a hot, flat rock.

So Amy takes him to see a medium and her daughter, who tell him that yes indeed his brother is calling out in torment, and that the ground where they live is cursed. Later, Matthew learns that the medium and her daughter are actually a mother and daughter who were killed years earlier. Soon, Matthew is having (sigh) dream/flashbacks about their murder. Clearly there is a dark presence in their midst. Could it be there is a child-killer in their little community? Okay, seeing as how they live in a dilapidated public housing project that falls on the Depressive-O-Meter somewhere between the one in Precious and the one in Harry Brown, I’d say something would be seriously wrong if there wasn’t a child-killer in the place.

Hm. Harry Brown. I wish Michael Caine was in this movie. He wasn’t though.

So more visions, more dreams, yadda yadda…well, okay let’s just get down to it: Matthew searches for a predator. Could it be Matthew’s abusive father, whom the police initially suspected of Tom’s disappearance? Could it be the menacing local kids on their Huffys? Or could it be the kindly, cool church volunteer who offers Matthew compassion and a kind ear to bend? Well, shit, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Anyway, Matthew cracks the case. The killer turns out to be supernatural, but he runs away anyway. In the process, Matthew saves another kid, so all’s well that ends well. And they find his brother’s corpse. Oh yeah, and he finds out that Amy actually committed suicide years earlier, so, you know, that’s not going anyplace.

See what I mean about obnoxious ghosts? Bad enough that have to screw around in our realm, but they can’t even be productive or at least unintrusive about it. Tom torments poor Matthew with horrific experiences, just so he can go on a long, convoluted quest. He can afflict Matthew with visions, waking nightmares, and close contact with dead people. Is it too much to just say, “Hey, bro, dude at the church. Get yourself a shovel and a baseball bat.” If it was me, I’d be all like, “Yo, dude, I kinda got a lot on my plate right now. I’m living in this circle of hell that I think is Margaret Thatcher’s fault…there’s this blonde chick I’m trying to get to second base with by the end of the week, so can we can we make this fast? Just write a name in the fog on the bathroom mirror…you can even write it backwards if that gives you a thrill.”

It doesn’t help that Matthew’s a bit of a cementhead. I mean, he gets so much supernatural help—visions, and no fewer than three freakin’ ghosts…what more does he need? A fairy riding on a unicorn that farts rainbows?

The Disappeared tries very hard—and good for it—but it needed some new tricks to be memorable.

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