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Ghosts of War Explained- Guilt, Trauma, And The Horror Of War

The setup for Ghosts of War out on Netflix now is more intriguing than the actual result. That’s okay, though, because it’s a wild ride.

I love me a good mash-up, especially if it involves horror. Take DeadSpace, one of my all-time favorite horror sci-fi games. When done well, they turn out great. It’s essential, though, to take the time to flesh out all ideas; otherwise, it comes out half-baked. Ghosts of War is one of those such movies. Excellent premise, but lacking in execution. Style for days. Substance somewhat lacking. Here is everything you need to know about Netflix’s latest Ghosts of War.

The Setup

Five World War Two soldiers are out trudging, attempting to relieve another squad of their post. Along the way, they are greeted by a nazi car, which is quickly disposed of thanks to some handy explosives. Two Nazi soldiers are left alive, one is killed with a crowbar, the other is coerced into a brawl with one of our “hero’s”. The fight is cut short when a bullet is fired into the remaining Nazi’s head. They are running late, with no time to play.

Ghosts of War
Official Trailer screengrab

Arriving at the mansion, the previous group of allied men moves quickly, leaving behind a rucksack with little care. Locked doors that open by themselves late on, the silhouette of a woman hung in the attic, and other classic spooks occur. The house is haunted, that much is for sure, but the question is why? This house has dark secrets and has seen its fair share of terrible tragedy. It isn’t long before the soldiers find those answers.

During their stay, the soldiers discover a journal with answers inside. The previous family harbored Jewish people to protect them from the SS. They were slaughtered, one by hanging, one by drowning, one lit on fire, and one to watch each death and suffer in agony. All too quickly, we are removed from an excellent mystery and scary atmosphere to one that is filled to the brim with pale faced, black lipped ghouls that jump in front of the camera. Many spooks are not consistent with the deaths. A Morse code message is heard through the fireplace, telling the squad that “I” have no legs. It was a pivotal moment that could be scarier than it really is. Who is communicating with the soldiers and what are they talking about?

The Twist

This makes up the first two acts of the film. All of the haunted house spookiness was a misdirect meant to confuse and drive the horror. As the soldiers fight off Nazi’s and attempt to bury the dead to get rid of the ghosts, strange flashbacks and little glimpses into another world seep through. They come full circle when one of the soldiers wakes up in a futuristic hospital. These soldiers are actually back from a fight against ISIS in the Middle East. Each member is badly injured thanks to a suicide bomber. These poor soldiers are mutilated horrifically. One of the soldiers is crying out that he has no legs. It is his voice that is breaking into the collective simulation we have been watching. The simulation they were previously put in was supposed to help them recover from PTSD, and the reality they faced now.

Who is haunting the soldiers and why?

Something is terribly wrong, however. The ghosts in the house should not be there in their current state. They turn out to be an American family the soldiers failed to protect. The mother, the suicide bomber mentioned previously, curses them and brings her family’s ghosts into the simulation. Failure was never an option for these poor soldiers, and forgiveness is not something the family’s matriarch is ready to extend.

There’s a lot of right and wrong in this movie. The duel threat of ghosts and wartime fighting is exciting. Overlord was largely successful in combining war and monsters. Ghosts of War uses ghosts figuratively and literally to convey the message. It is an incredibly stylish film that relies as heavily on the twist. Your ability to believe the reveal is necessary to enjoy the movie. For those who saw it coming will like it less so.

The Ending of Ghosts of War

The transition from Germany to a hospital bed is jarring and filled to the brim with plot holes. You’ll either find it ingenious, reminiscent of Rod Sterling and The Twighlight Zone, or you will find it trite. Yes, there are some questionable plot devices. For example, a World War Two simulation is supposed to help the soldiers get over PTSD? I highly doubt more fighting does the job. Additionally, why would the soldiers ask to go back into that hellscape?

It’s never quite explained why our hero’s memory needs to be erased before entering the simulation. The nurse only tells him as he is sinking into the fake world, he will remember nothing. It’s bizarre when he wakes up, right back at the beginning, repeating his same first line. Perhaps it’s a commentary of the Hell of war? Are the soldiers being punished, as one soldier explains? Hell is a repeated punishment. The soldiers certainly seem to be suffering. It would explain why their therapy isn’t very therapeutic. One of the squad members died in the hospital. Presumably, he has escaped further trauma, unless he returns as a ghost to haunt the remaining men. His comments as he jumped on the grenade earlier in the simulation seem to indicate a repeating pattern. He can not escape things any more than the living men.

Ghosts of War
Official Trailer screengrab

Ghosts of War is as simple as broken men who have broken minds. War caused them to do terrible things. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to save a family, and their overwhelming guilt has manifested into ghosts to haunt them. What should be a healing process(still questionable) can’t be because the men are punishing themselves. Whether the soldier who jumped on the grenade is dead or not is irrelevant. Our hero brings him and the deceased family into his simulation. He subconsciously knows it isn’t real, and that is why he hears the soldier tell him to remember it isn’t real.

Unfortunately, this movie suffers from having too much of a good thing. With an ending that doesn’t complete its story, it leaves the audience feeling leak and cheated. Had the ideas of subconscious communication been flushed out more, or the power of guilt been more examined, it could have been more powerful. As it was, it was a fun mindbender with enough style to make up for the minor imperfections. Catch it on Netflix right now.

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