A spooky ghost story starring Nicolas Cage about a sinister ghost that abducts children

Nicolas Cage has avoided horror movies for the most part in his career. The former Oscar winner has been racking up an impressive number of dramatic action thrillers in recent years as his career shifts to more direct-to-video fare. Pay The Ghost sees the star confront a mysterious entity that abducts children on Halloween. This is horror made for adults, though it has all the familiar genre tropes such as eerie images and sinister apparitions. Director Uli Edel’s movie is a solid, moody ghost story lacking the necessary polish needed to make it anything more than a disposable rental.

Professor Mike Lawford (Nicholas Cage) and his wife Kristen (Sarah Wayne Callies) have a seven-year-old child, Charlie. Charlie is excited by an outdoor Halloween festival and gets his father to take him. Mike Lawford’s happiness is shattered when Charlie seemingly vanishes into thin air at the street festival, right after telling his father to “pay the ghost.” He doesn’t know what it means and the movie isn’t forthcoming until much later. The movie picks up one year later and Charlie is still missing with no leads. Mike has become obsessed looking for Charlie, continuing the search for his missing son long after the police have given up. Charlie’s disappearance has broken up the fragile marriage between Mike and Kristen.

Mike begins to see haunting images and messages that indicate his son may still be alive. Someone or something from the other side is possibly trying to contact Mike, leading to a deepening mystery involving the early history of New York City. Eventually Kristen has an encounter that convinces her something very strange is happening and Charlie may still be alive.

… Cage looks like a natural fit in the horror genre.

Pay The Ghost gets off to a slow start as it sets up Charlie’s disappearance. Most of the spooky stuff is reserved for the second and third acts. The movie is also coy about its intentions. The ghost mystery isn’t fully revealed for a long time into the story, which sometimes indicates the movie has no good answers but isn’t the case in Pay The Ghost. A satisfying explanation based on Celtic mythology and New York City’s history nicely wraps everything up. An earlier hint of it would have done wonders for the sluggishly paced first act.

Pay the Ghost is a competent, mostly original ghost story, based on a short story by Tim Lebbon. What elevates it from being an utterly forgettable film are Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori of The Walking Dead) as the frightened parents. Cage tones down his performance for the desperate, exhausted father and Callies is perfect as the confused, sympathetic wife. This is good work by the both of them and Cage looks like a natural fit in the horror genre. He should branch out from the largely rote thrillers he now churns out with regularity. This is not a film that breaks any new ground but serves as decent Halloween entertainment intended for adult audiences.

Movie ★★★☆☆

Pay the Ghost Blu-ray screen shot 11

Image Entertainment presents Pay The Ghost in satisfactory Hi-Def on this Blu-ray. This is not eye candy to any special degree but solid, clean 1080P video befitting a new production. The 94-minute main feature is encoded in AVC on a BD-25. The AVC encode averages 25 Mbps, though a surprising amount of posterization creeps into one of the most pivotal moments in Pay The Ghost.

The rather pedestrian cinematography includes the movie’s scope aspect ratio at 2.35:1. The mildly flat color palette leads to dull, uninspired imagery and I was constantly wishing for richer black levels.

Fine detail is fairly average aside from the occasional extreme close-up. While the transfer from a digital intermediate shows no signs of stringent video processing, this isn’t extremely sharp, revealing clarity.

Flesh-tones err on the pale side, leaving everyone slightly pasty. There isn’t anything overly wrong with Pay The Ghost on Blu-ray but this is average picture quality for a new release in 2015.

Video ★★★☆☆

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is asked to carry much of the weight for Pay The Ghost’s limited frights. This is a rewarding horror experience from the perspective of its sound design, filled with eerie ambient cues and subtle surround design that becomes active when needed. The LFE channel sees action as well, the audio becomes a vigorous sub workout when Cage confronts the entity behind everything. Fidelity is clean and crisp, nicely balanced by a strong score with booming dynamic range.

Image Entertainment provides optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles in a white font. They remain inside the scope framing of the movie at all times.

Audio ★★★★☆

A slipcover is available. The only bonus features are the two trailers that precede the main menu.

Rage Trailer (02:09 in HD)

Odd Thomas Trailer (02:29 in HD)

Extras ★☆☆☆☆


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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