GHOSTWRITTEN Review: Juxtaposition of Greek Mythology, 90s Indie Cinema

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
GHOSTWRITTEN Review: Juxtaposition of Greek Mythology, 90s Indie Cinema
Deep into a film that has yet to really show its hand, a desperate writer, our unlikeable, emasculated protagonist, Guy Laury, tries to call his agent on a payphone in the middle of an abandoned town.
There is a photocopied flyer taped to the side of the booth for a ghost-hunting website that reads, “See Something? Hear Something? Feel Something?” Maybe. I think? Possibly. Not sure. Definitely.
Up until this point, Guy has spent the majority of his waking hours in running gear. He is a runner. He is running from his writer's block. He is running from his drug-addled mother’s mounting medical bills at a private New York City mental hospital. He is running from the ever-widening gap of time since the break-out success of his first novel, an autographical one about unnamed childhood traumas, that is bumping up against a decade.
With no follow-up, or even a compelling idea for one, and a looming deadline of sorts, he jumps at the offer of a writer's residency on the quiet, and most importantly, remote, Nantucket Island. It's a  temporary escape from his problems, perhaps, but something that becomes a wee bit more metaphysical, where he can wrestle with whether or not he is "the good guy” in his own personal story.
Writer/director Thomas Matthews makes films that seem to be out of step with whatever is current. I mean this in the best possible way.
His previous film, Lost Holiday, was a boozy, devil-may-care crime caper, a Whit Stillman-esque riff on Withnail & I, set in the low-key suburban neighbourhoods around Washington D.C. He returns with Ghostwritten, a literary haunting cum narrative deconstruction. You will spot the pun at some point while watching.
It is a short but slow burner of a film, one that feels like it was made in the early 90s Sundance boom-era, but possesses shadows of a premonition of the 21st century streaming micro-budget digital world that would follow. It's as if Tom DiCillo was attempting a shoe-string reimagining of The Shining, but playing to the strengths of a couple of mumblecore players (Jay Duplass, Kate Lyn Sheil), and a hint of Seth Smith's 2017 off-kilter maritime mind-fuck, The Crescent, precisely made to debut on Crackle. Or Tubi.
This is storytelling that lets its audience feel that it is well ahead of what it is going on, even if there are many things in play: be it a low-key library and folklore romance, a downbeat self-loathing of an aging wannabe intellectual, a cliche with chunky glasses and a MacBook, or a decades-old murder involving another famous writer who lived on the island (no, not Herman Melville) and a stolen novel. (Side note: it is nice to see Hal Hartley regular Thomas Jay Ryan make an appearance as that hard drinking, shotgun sporting, big-guilt projecting, writer.)
To counterbalance the obvious, Ghostwritten seems to always be on the verge, both in video and audibly, of crumbling into noise. The experience of watching it is akin to listening to two radio stations whose broadcasts are overlapping on the same frequency. Visually, the film is predominantly in high-contact black and white, but it edges at key points into colour: sometimes faded 70s neo-sepia tones, sometimes vibrant Dario Argento reds. 
Guy’s unreliably unfolding personal journey into hell is intercut with wobbly VHS interviews of Nantucket residents who had demonic encounters in the past, as well as illustrations of greek mythology, Sirens luring sailors onto the rocks, and a series of portentous chapter cards. And then there is Kate Lyn Sheil, who is the pilot of the small aircraft that flew Guy onto the island, and his bartender at the unnamed bar in town; its shingle is a neon fish, and its burly, sauced patrons spend most of their time laughing at nothing at all.
She is also the narrator. Until the film lays its narrative cards face up on the table, across these three small roles, she handily steals the show. Rolling Stone was right to call her the Meryl Streep of the micro-budget film community.
We live in a world of way too much content. It bleeds, overlaps, takes breaks, and offers distraction. Matthews structures Ghostwritten as a dodge, that side-hustle project or true crime podcast that allows one to block out the world temporarily, but not offer any meaningful escape or personal growth, instead offering a light kind of scratching of a workshop itch.
Its intent seems not so much about making us see, hear or feel something, as much as it is about its own clever trick. And a Faustian one at that. I confess though, it lured me in at the end, as, admittedly, I am a sucker for this kind of wankery.

Ghostwritten is available On Demand via various platforms as of February 9, 2024.


  • Thomas Matthews
  • Thomas Matthews
  • Maria Dizzia
  • Jay Duplass
  • Kate Lyn Sheil
  • Thomas Jay Ryan
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