One of the most charming, silly and rambunctious films of this year's festival, Ghost Graduation (Promoción fantasma) is an unabashed love letter to the cinema of John Hughes, mixed in with bits of The Frighteners or Ghostbusters for good measure.
The film starts, as most should, with the thumping melodrama of Bonnie Tyler's epic "Total Eclipse of the Heart." We see a wallflower boy sitting at the edges of the crowd during a slow dance. Soon the crowd parts, and he sees his dream girl, hair flowing in slow motion driven by some magical breeze. He reaches towards her, the two embrace, their orthodontically-augmented teeth clinking as they kiss.
We then cut to see that he's embracing nothing but air, with entire rows of fellow students gawking at this boy who's seemingly lost his mind.
Thus, we learn quickly that this is a guy who can see dead people. The twist, of course, is that he becomes a teacher himself, taking a job at a school that has seen its own share of phantasmagoric incidents. Seeing through the cheap parlour tricks of a group of ghost students that have inhabited the school since the mid 80s, he takes it upon himself to help them graduate so they can move on.
This ragtag group fits the Hughesian archetype to a T, complete with them performing the Breakfast Club shuffle during one of the many montage sequences. There's a principal that our hero has awkward affection for, a strident parent alumni representative, and numerous other generic characters that films like this demand.
Naturally, it should all be a pretty disastrous, winking mess, but credit to the filmmakers for their ability at keeping even the most tired conventions seemingly fresh. There's a slew of fun moments throughout, and a rapid pace that keeps the whole thing chugging along.
From stupid jokes to laugh-out-loud moments, Ghost Graduation provides a terrifically fun time, a supernatural romantic retro comedy that more than lives up to the films of the 80s that inspired it. It's almost a given that there will be some English language remake that will suck much of the life out of it, so it's probably best to see Ghost Graduation before the charms of the film are undermined by what's likely to be an inferior copy.
Review originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012. Ghost Graduation will screen at the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival on Sunday, February 17. Check the festival site for more information.