When Bridesmaids director Paul Feig tried to reboot Ghostbusters five years ago, he was thwarted by a nasty sexist backlash and some questionable creative choices. Building a new, all-female ghostbusting crew around the super-talented Melissa McCarthy was a solid idea, but why bother rounding up Bill Murray and the other OGs for cameos, then have them play different characters? Murray was inexplicably cast as a paranormal debunker called Dr Martin Heiss when everyone just wanted him to be Peter Venkman again.
This new movie, directed by Jason Reitman – son of original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, who’s the producer here – feels more faithful to the (ahem) spirit of the first two films. Set around 30 years after 1989’s Ghostbusters II, it’s a direct sequel that relocates the spook-nuking action from New York to a sleepy town in rural Oklahoma. Summerville is so sleepy, in fact, that it’s kind of a time warp where people are apparently still happy to watch movies on VHS. This is a smart touch from Reitman and co-writer Gil Kenan – it gives Afterlife a sort of nostalgic lacquer that suits a franchise so firmly rooted in the 1980s.
The story follows broke lone mother Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) and her teenage kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) as they up sticks to Summerville, where Callie’s recently deceased dad has left them a creepy dilapidated farmhouse. Callie is handed the keys by – who else? – original Ghostbusters secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts). Early on, it’s almost as if Reitman is reassuring stans that they’re in safe hands here: don’t worry, lads, this is the Ghostbusters you know and love!
Anyway, if the surname Spengler sounds familiar, that’s because it is: Callie is the daughter of Egon Spengler, the character played in the ’80 movies by the late Harold Ramis. It’s surely no spoiler to reveal that socially awkward, science-loving Phoebe is very much a chip off the old block. Soon enough, she discovers that her socially awkward, science-loving grandfather has equipped the farmhouse with all manner of awesome ghostbusting paraphernalia. Which is handy, because in time Summerville becomes a surprise hotspot of paranormal activity.
In all honesty, the plot doesn’t always make sense as Reitman raises the stakes, but Afterlife is so much fun you’ll hardly care. Paul Rudd supplies his usual easy charm as Gary Grooberson, a supply teacher sucked into the kids’ ghostbusting mission, but Trevor’s love interest Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) is pretty thinly written. It would be a shame to give anything away about the film’s emotionally satisfying climax, so let’s just say this: if you really want to tug at fans’ heartstrings, who ya gonna call? The result is a sequel that feels like an authentic Ghostbusters movie without quite slipping into retread mode. Against the odds, this franchise might be back from the dead.
- Director: Jason Reitman
- Starring: Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd
- Release date: November 19