Nicolas Cage in: Pay the Ghost

Pay the Ghost

Released in 2015 ▪ Review posted October 31, 2015


Randy Marsh (South Park)

Pay the Ghost, an unoriginal, mediocre offering from director Uli Edel, had all the right ingredients but didn’t bother to combine them with care or cook them consistently. The result is an uneven and unpalatable series of leftover horror cliches, served repeatedly in small, easy-to-chew bites. Thankfully, Nicolas Cage was one of the tastier morsels.

In Pay the Ghost, Cage once again portrays a father who loses a child and spends the following eighty minutes getting them back. It’s a formula that has worked for Cage in the past, but Pay the Ghost adds its own twist by making the kidnapper a phantasm rather than a foreign gangster. That’s it. Everything else is just borrowed from The Omen (researching ancient religions in search of mystical clues), Candyman (creepy messages written on tenament housing), and Poltergeist (retrieving your child from the spirit world). Those films are also somewhat derivative, but each of them at least contains something new. Pay the Ghost seems to go out of its way to reenact the Father Brennan death scene from the original The Omen, which honestly felt more like stealing than homage.

What’s most exciting about Pay the Ghost is that Cage has clearly learned lessons since The Wicker Man, a previous horror film starring our hero. In it, Cage expressed a disorienting array of sudden emotions, yanking the viewer right out of any moment that might have been building. In Pay the Ghost, Cage gives us a well-blended oil painting. Terror, self-doubt, obsession, determination, and grief all bleed together, making the mostly cringeworthy screenplay interesting sometimes. His performance is still a rollercoaster of Cage-feelings, but it peaks at appropriate levels and is proportional with his co-stars.

If films like Pay the Ghost are the future of Cage, we might have a lot to look forward to. Any actor’s career, even a hugely famous A-list actor, has peaks and valleys. Take as an example any actor resurrected by Tarantino. All Cage needs is a director capable of finessing a leveled-off performance and an under-the-radar screenplay of decent quality to swing a huge comeback. After an extended period of creative stagnation followed by a drought of new material, we’re finally seeing fresh, grounded takes on characterization. If this is a sign of things to come, we might be in for some real treats.

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