Adam Stovall’s A Ghost Waits is a low-budget rom-com with a ghastly twist. While most ghost stories exploit the haunted house formula for gore and horror, A Ghost Waits takes a more darkly funny and understatedly dour approach that deals with the futility of existence and the need for connection.
Jack (MacLeod Andrews) is employed as a handyman at a property management company. His job entails fixing up houses after tenants move out. When so many residents seem to have left a suburban house in a hurry — forfeiting their lease and leaving behind their belongings — Jack is tasked by his boss (Adam Stovall) to figure out why the property is scaring clients away. To his surprise, the place is haunted by a ghost named Muriel (Natalie Walker).
Muriel is part of an afterlife bureaucracy, which is an obvious comparison to Tim Burton‘s Beetlejuice but a comparison that ends there. In A Ghost Waits, “spectral agents” are assigned a place to scare unsuspecting tenants away from the property. Muriel has been haunting tenants in the same house for hundreds of years. Jack, while existing freely, lives a lonely, dejected existence. When all efforts to spook Jack away from the property fail, Muriel reveals herself to Jack and questions Jack’s ability to withstand her spooky antics. Through conversation and common ground, Muriel and Jack connect on a deeper level to the point of developing a romantic connection.
A Decidedly Rum Ghost Story About Finding Purpose & Love
A Ghost Waits begins with Jack fixing up a suburban house that numerous families have inexplicably abandoned on a whim. There is only so much Jack can clean and repair with the previous owners’ belongings taking up so much space. Even so, he does what he can, and he talks to himself because no one else will give him the time of day — except Jack isn’t alone in the house, someone is listening.
Unbeknownst to Jack, a ghost is toying with him. Doors are mysteriously opening, and the doorbell is ringing for no particular reason. After Jack realizes there’s a ghost haunting the property, he ends up staying because he has a job to do, and it isn’t like he has anywhere else to go. Jack soon learns that the name of the “spectral agent” is Muriel, and he is drawn to her presence, as is Muriel.
In the beginning, A Ghost Waits brims with kooky humor as Muriel becomes steadily more annoyed by Jack’s inability to fear, let alone discern, her ghostly ploys. A well-chosen rock-centric soundtrack (consisting of Honeyhoney, Wussy, and The Bengsons) complements the kooky humor. But, more importantly, it is Jack’s equanimous disposition that renders the dialogue and actions effectively deadpan (Jack has a conversation with a toilet, which shouldn’t make me chuckle but it does, in large part due to how the lines are blithely delivered). MacLeod Andrews is completely delightful in the role of Jack, assuming the right temperament and attitude for a character who’s existing, but not really living. Andrews brings intimations of sadness and acerbity to the role, helping progress and uphold the complexities of Jack.
A stellar Natalie Walker is summoned as a straight-faced ghost named Muriel. Muriel wears a black dress and speaks with a formal dialect, thus indicating she lived in a different world than the one Jack lives in. Jack and Muriel’s novel affection is tested by Ms. Henry (Amanda Miller), Muriel’s boss. But is love able to overcome dimensions and spiritual obligations?
An Unexpected Romance Leads To An Unexpected Ending
A Ghost Waits revamps the haunted house formula by dwelling on the shared frustrations between a ghost and a human. Jack and Muriel are both lonely, exhausted, and fed up with being undervalued by others. It would have been easy for Stovall to employ horror genre conventions to amp up the excitement, but he doesn’t for the sake of preserving the characters’ otherworldly connection. Instead of relaying tragedy as the crux of their self-imposed isolation, Jack and Muriel are unhappy because they have no one to love, that is until they grow fond of each other.
At one point when referring to her presence in the house, Muriel says, “It is a gift to feel so lucky to have something and to know that it is lucky to have you.” Whether that statement is logical is irrelevant, principally because as emotional beings, we look for purpose by any conceptual, concrete, or spiritual means. Jack finds love, purpose, and connection in the unthinkable. If only the film didn’t rush the relationship come the second half.
The initial charm of A Ghost Waits relied upon quirky comedy, but that charm evolves as the film enters a solemn final act that is surprisingly introspective and genuinely poignant. Helping induce and sustain that charm is Michael C. Potter’s black and white cinematography, which is consistently detailed and moody. A Ghost Waits is a zany comedy with overarching gloom, but it gradually morphs into a tale of love that leaves you feeling oddly warm inside.
A Ghost Waits: Conclusion
What writer-director Adam Stovall achieves with a paltry budget is laudable. The balance of desolation and warmth that Stovall strikes is utterly absorbing. All of the pieces — the cleverly offbeat direction, the endearing chemistry between MacLeod Andrews and Natalie Walker, and the breathtaking cinematography — blend together to elevate a haunted house story, making for an inspired directorial debut from Stovall.
A Ghost Waits won’t provide too many chills and scares, but it will provide a well-crafted, tonally ambitious narrative of love and loneliness that is worthy of existing.
Have you seen A Ghost Waits? If not, are you interested in seeing it now?
A Ghost Waits is available to watch on the Arrow player.
Watch A Ghost Waits
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.