I Am A Ghost is not your typical ghost movie. You should definitely know this before sitting down with it. It emphasizes the expression “slow burn,” and very little action propels the story forward. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an engaging watch, because it definitely is.
Emily is a young ghost haunting her former home. Years ago (how many exactly we’re never told) she was murdered in her room, stabbed to death on top of a carpet at the foot of her bed. A large portion of the movie is comprised of snippets of her day-to-day life. She wakes, stretches, makes breakfast, looks through drawers, gazes at photographs, and stares into the mirror as she cries out in pain, her wrapped wrist spotting blood. Occasionally she takes trips to the nearby market place. Every so often she’ll look into her bedroom and see something ghastly – enough that it sends her running down the hallway, her mop and bucket abandoned on the floor behind her. We’re not sure at first the relevance of these scenes, or why we’re seeing them repeated as often as they are. But it soon all makes sense…which worsens Emily’s post-life in unfortunate and horrifying ways.
The time period in which the story takes place is kept purposely vague, but based on the décor of the home, the photographs we see, and the lack of any electronic gadgets whatsoever (no computers, no TVs, and definitely no cell phones) intimates that this story is set in the past. Emily’s housedress is antiquated in its design, and the nearest clue we have to a time period is the old tabletop radio that she listens to while preparing her breakfast.
I Am A Ghost is a rarity in that the audience spends their entire time with a ghost. There is no cutting back and forth between her and the family that resides in that same house and wants to see her go. And there is no Sixth Sense/The Others third-act twist that let’s us discover she’s been dead the whole time. We know this pretty much from the start, especially when the disembodied voice of the very much alive Sylvia, a clairvoyant, sounds through the house and demands that Emily repeat after her: “I am a ghost…I am a ghost…I am a ghost.”
Working on behalf of the family, Sylvia wants Emily to move on, and by actively communicating with her, she is attempting to collect enough information to trigger a connection. She needs Emily to realize that not only is she dead, but there’s absolutely no reason for her to stick around. It would be best for both her and the family in the living world that she move on. A tough conflict, to be sure, but once Sylvia gets things in motion and begins to communicate with Emily more and more, a revelation rears its head that threatens to make the removal process much more complicated. This twist is often used to death in more mainstream fare, so at first it was a momentary let down in the sense of “oh, they’re going to do this now...”
But that disappointment lasts only so long, because it soon shapes the events for the remainder of the film, and in a strangely abstract way makes perfect sense. And once the physical embodiment of this twist materializes, well…look out. It’s unexpected and definitely creepy. This is when I Am A Ghost transcends the experimental character study into full-on horror.
Anna Ashida as Emily has a tough job. She spends 99% of her screen time talking to a ceiling. She has very little interaction with other beings, and no one really to bounce emotions off. It’s, for all intents, a one-woman show. It's difficult for performers to attempt an emotional connection with their audience when they have very little opportunities for character interaction and exposition, but she makes us care for her plight all the same.
What writer/director H.P. Mendoza was able to accomplish on a shoestring budget is something to awe over. While there are no immense set pieces or special effects, his ability to effectively capture on film such an unusual approach to a horror film is a thing worthy of praise. It was a "what if?" movie. And it works.
While the patches of film that contain dialogue are few, the dialogue itself is engaging, natural (despite the situation), and occasionally amusing. All of our exposition comes from the information swapped between Emily and Sylvia; along with everything we’ve observed about Emily thus far.
The film is described as being an experimental horror film, and while I suppose that’s true, I Am A Ghost remains very accessible. It might not quench the thirst of the hardcore exploitation crowd, but willing fans of Kubrick and Polanski will be highly rewarded with an oddity of a film. In keeping with the current trend, I Am A Ghost is shot to look like a 1970s low budgeter. Beyond simply an attempt to associate itself with the films of those aforementioned filmmakers, I wonder why Mendoza made this decision. Perhaps one day I'll have the opportunity to ask him.
I Am A Ghost is currently playing the festival circuit, and as far as I know, has not secured any kind of distribution, which is a shame, but one I’m confident is a temporary problem. For developments, keep an eye on the film's Facebook page, and subscribe to H.P. Mendoza's status updates.