I don't think I have to be the one that reminds you about the certain infamous recognition that Oscar-winner actor Nicolas Cage has nowadays. We all know about his projects, why he chooses them, how he fares in them, and what he brings to the plate.
Personally, I'm a fan, not in a "haha, let's laugh at how he acts" kinda way, but as someone who is genuinely curious about what he can do, especially when he is directed by people that have demonstrated some sort of talent at some point, like this time with German director Uli Edel. And, to my surprise, his performance in Pay the Ghost might be among his best acting in the last five years.
Cage plays a literature professor, who lectures about Poe and Lovecraft to his students on the day of Halloween, warning them about the dark spirits that roam the mind, all while he gets late to his own home, where his son waited for him to go asking for candy.
He wants to repay him some way, after his son had to go trick 'r' treating with his mother, so he takes him to a nearby Halloween themed fair, filled to the brim with people. Here, his son asks him if they can "pay the ghost", seconds later, after Cage gets distracted, he disappears. He is not found. We jump ahead a year, Halloween is coming again and the memory of the lost child is still on his mind, as he has never stopped searching.
While an interesting premise, especially as the film progressively gets closer and closer to a supernatural drama than to what might've been a much dryer film about the struggle of couples after their child goes missing, the rest of the film is written in a way that turns it predictable, and you can almost hear how the gears of the film itself cringe and squeak as they try to move forward with the events that it has to play out and the dialogue in the events. It's, in more ways than one would imagine, over-written, and it follows all the tricks, hints and tips that fill "get your screenplay to Hollywood" books.
Uli Edel works as much as he can with the script, and tries to ease us into the implausibilities that are on the surface, like the fact that in the recent history of New York, where the film takes place, more than half of the kids who go missing on Halloween never come back, while in any other date they mostly appear again... something that an inquisitive mind anywhere would've found out years ago, but here it's treated as the big discovery made by Cage, one he informs the police, which maintains an annoyingly oppressive disbelief to most of the weird crap that's happening, and hadn't realized before that.
The film abuses jump scares and has a few CGI effects that don't really manage to fully convincing, and even if the story ends up being a bit predictable as it ends up explaining the roots of the horror, the ghost and the disappearing kids, we are treated to some surprising imagery. This is especially so when it comes to the Irish/Celtic origins of the whole supernatural element in this movie. It could manage to bring up some momentum and interest from most viewers, enough for them to be invested in the climax and how the movie ends, not with a bang, but with a nice enough chase between dimensions, which sounds cool, but it's just the crossing of a bridge.
But I think that I haven't stressed enough about the importance of Nicolas Cage's performance. While it won't win him any awards, it'll serve as an answer to those naysayers who say that he can't act anymore, as he has just not been tuned to the right directors.
Edel may be far from being one of the great ones, but he has enough experience to make you believe that Nicolas Cage is grieving because of the sudden disappearance of his son, and that's enough that he can carry a film that maybe needed a couple of re-writes so it doesn't end up being so obvious.
The film will open in select theaters in the U.S. on Wednesday, September 23, and on the same day will also be available to watch via various Video On Demand platforms.